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True costs of Germany’s nuclear shutdown

Germany is experiencing one failure after another all because of political pressure from environmental groups, as well as the political Green Party itself. As Germany is implementing a conversion from nuclear to renewable wind and solar, it has become apparent that both projects are failing their original objectives. Coming to America, soon!

Problem one: German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s 2011 decision to rapidly phase out the country’s 17 nuclear power reactors has left the government and utilities with a massive problem: How to clean up and store large amounts of nuclear waste and other radioactive material. This is turning out to be a major cost.

Problem two: The proposed replacement for phasing out nuclear was to replace it with wind in the northern part of the country along the coastline and solar panels on every structure throughout the country. So far, most of the replacement electricity is coming from the purchase of France’s clean nuclear powered sources and the building of new coal fired generation plants, which are cleaner than the old coal plants but still produces CO2 emissions. This too is turning out to be a major cost.

Problem Three: Elections are forthcoming. The country has struggled to meet its pollution-reduction targets. Germany committed to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 40 percent in 2020 compared to 1990 levels but had managed just a 27 percent reduction at the end of last year. The commitment of 95% by 2050 is now the paradox facing Merkel, who’ll campaign for a fourth term in 2017. This is also turning out to be a major cost.

If you were to look closely at Germany’s energy policy and its problems, you will see the making of the same energy issues here in America, except NG would replace coal. The US has just shut down five nuclear power plants and replaced the electricity generation with natural gas, not wind and solar. Each of those plants has to store high-level nuclear waste (fuel) on site until the US can develop a workable solution.

Germany still hasn’t figured out what to do with their high-level waste — mostly spent fuel rods — that are now in interim (100 years) canisters located in a dozen specialized warehouses near existing nuclear power plants. Any future waste repository will have to contain the spent uranium fuel for up to a million years, unless they change policy and implement next generation reactors to consume it.

In Germany, a government commission on highly radioactive nuclear waste spent the last two years working on a 700-page report which was supposed to recommend a storage location. Instead, the report estimated that Germany’s final storage facility would be ready “in the next century.” Costs are expected to be astronomical. In reality, that means they don’t have a solution to store or consume the waste as fuel.

China is leading the world with its investment in implementing the molten salt reactor (MSR) technology. I can not leave out Canada, which will probably have the first commercial MSR. There are many other companies/countries that are committed to MSR technology and the elimination of the high level waste material created by the early generation reactors over the last 60 years.

Germany has an additional problem with low-level waste storage and management. Most of the material originated from 14 nuclear power plants from 1967 until 1978 was stored in an underground facility that now has a serious water seepage problem. All the material stored there has to be removed and restored. A 2015 report by Germany’s Environment Ministry noted, “There are currently no technical plans available for the envisioned waste recovery project which would allow a reliable estimate of the costs.”

“Nuclear in Germany is not popular,” said Claudia Kemfert, head of energy, transportation, and environment at the German Institute for Economic Research. “Everybody knows it is dangerous and causes a lot of environmental difficulties. Nuclear [is being] replaced by renewables – we have no need for nuclear power any more.” It is that consensus that has created an enormous technical and costly problem. Hindsight is always 20/20 and Germany is now seeing the results of their hasty planning or lack of.

On the other front; renewable generated replacement electricity has not materialize as expected either. While the wind and solar already implemented has the capacity, actual production has fallen far short and is very expensive. New coal plants are being built to augment renewable (now called clean) energy. Germany has plenty of coal and I would have to say, the concept of shutting down nuclear without increasing fossil fuels may not be possible. Germany is still fossilized and this is the true face of their ‘energiewende’.


Letter to Governor Brown of CA

This week, I would like to share a letter about how nuclear energy is essential to fighting global warming, sent by Dr. James Hansen the leading climate scientists in the world, plus a long list of other environmentalists, to the State of California. This letter applies to every state in the Union.

The Honorable Edmund G. Brown, Jr., Governor of California

August 11, 2016

Dear Governor Brown,

Several months ago we wrote to you to raise our concerns about Diablo Canyon, California’s last nuclear plant. Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) has now agreed in a Joint Proposal with Friends of the Earth, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility and other groups to close the plant in 2025.

We request that you ask the California Public Utility Commission (CPUC) to delay consideration of that and any other proposal to close Diablo until the legislature and the public, who will have to foot the bill, can openly debate how California can most quickly and cost-effectively stop the damage to the climate from our electrical system emissions. There are serious questions about whether this proposal is good for ratepayers, the environment and the climate.

Retirement of the plant will make a mockery of California’s de-carbonization efforts. Diablo Canyon’s yearly output of 17,600 gigawatt-hours supplies 9 percent of California’s total in-state electricity generation and 21 percent of its low-carbon generation. If Diablo closes it will be replaced mainly by natural gas, and California’s carbon dioxide emissions will rise.

The economic losses from Diablo Canyon’s premature closure will also be substantial. Electricity rates will rise from the replacement of cheap nuclear power with more expensive renewable power. According to the Joint Proposal, ratepayers will pay a “non-bypassable charge” to make good decommissioning costs that would have been funded had Diablo completed a typical 60-year service life. San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties will lose $27 million per year in local tax, 1,500 well-paying jobs at the plant and a yearly payroll of over $200 million that indirectly supports a further 2,800 local jobs.

These problems are all familiar from the closure of the San Onofre nuclear plant a few years ago. Despite environmentalists’ hopes, San Onofre was replaced mainly by gas-fired generation. Greenhouse emissions and electricity rates increased. California’s share of gas-fired generation immediately rose from 45 percent to 61 percent.

That gas dependency will increase further, to 70 percent or more, if Diablo Canyon closes. When natural gas prices rise again, higher dependency will mean economic vulnerability as well—and undermine California’s reputation as a leader on climate policy. Under your own administration, the percent of electricity generated in-state from clean sources declined, mostly because of San Onofre’s closure.

Given the serious harm to the environment, the economy and ratepayer interests that will flow from Diablo’s closure, we are deeply troubled by the lack of democratic process surrounding the Joint Proposal. It was decided in secret negotiations between PG&E and unaccountable anti-nuclear groups, some with financial ties to the renewables sector.

[removed unnecessary paragraph] to size the article for publication in local paper.

The loss of one-fifth of California’s clean electricity is of such significance as to merit the direct attention of the state legislature. These questions deserve a broad, considered and transparent discussion by the public and their elected representatives. We ask you to support this position, and to help initiate the public debate that needs to happen.

It would be a tragedy if we were to allow irrational fear to harm the climate and endanger the future our children and grandchildren. As California’s governor you have an opportunity to safeguard your environmental legacy by overcoming anti-nuclear prejudice that is jeopardizing our progress on clean energy.


James Hansen

The Energy Policy should not be partisan

The US energy policy and the world energy policy should be viewed as a betterment of humanity. Energy should be viewed as a whole and not as the individual sources that make it up. Energy should provide humanity and its environment with abundance, whatever that might be, to improve living as we know it today with a long term perspective in hundreds of years, not every four year.

None of the political parties are actually looking at energy with this perspective. The choices so far are 1) no fossil, 2) fossil or 3) what ever the market will bear. None of these are really appropriate because they are basically a pick and choose winners and losers. Each individual energy source has its advantage and drawback depending on where and how it is used. Some are cleaner, safer, cheaper, more efficient and reliable and the list goes on.

The goal of an energy policy should be based on what is best for each geographic center. What is best for California is not necessary the best for Iowa or New York. With 50 individual states, all with different ecosystems, economics and political ideals, a universal mandate from the Federal Government is completely the wrong approach. The Federal government should set guidelines for safe energy and let the market determine the best approach.

For example, the federal government has flat out mandated the elimination of coal mining and burning for generating electricity through non-congressional regulations. This type of policy has a critical impact on several states livelihood. How does this elimination improve the lives in those states and other states that depend on coal shipments? Coal has always provided abundance for all the people but has also created a concern about pollution of the air, water and land. Instead of eliminating coal, it should be made cleaner through technical innovations to directly address the concerns of pollutions.

Another example would be the nuclear power industry. For the last 40 years the federal government has placed regulation upon regulation that it has basically chocked the industry into near non-existence. Nuclear energy has already proved itself to be the most reliable and efficient source of clean energy. But that doesn’t seem to matter when you have selfish advocates against it and fossil fuels (Craig). Nuclear is the safest energy ever devised.

Subsidies and Natural Gas (NG) have been the saving grace for the federal governments preferred choice for electricity generation – wind and solar. While wind and solar do have their benefits in certain ecosystems, they are not the most reliable or efficient source for the national power grid. Subsidies should be removed or all sources of energy should be subsidized equally per actual Kwt, not capacity like wind and solar is today.

Almost 90% of America’s low-carbon energy sources come from hydropower (21%) and nuclear power (67%). It is ironic that the two largest providers of low-carbon electricity, hydro and nuclear, have the most onerous regulatory hurdles that make construction lengthy and expensive. Ten years is common for merely licensing either. Once built, however, both enjoy the longest of facility life-times, the lowest production costs per kWh, and produce vastly more power than any other type of energy facility before they are ever shuttered.

Good News – maybe: The most recent report from the Federal Government (ORNL) is to expand hydropower by 50% through electrifying existing dams and emplacing pumped hydro storage at existing non-powered dams to facilitate more intermittent renewable like wind and solar onto the electric grid. Only 3% of American dams generate electricity. The others provide navigation, flood control, irrigation, water supply and/or recreation without power, but most can be upgraded to supply electricity. However, no new dams are in the report and no mention of droughts.

Of all the energy sources, coal, gas and nuclear fuels are not dependent and have centuries of inventory, most not discovered yet. Uranium can be extracted from our oceans and thorium is just sitting there on every beach. The capacity inventory reaches into the billions of years when you consider the inventory on our moon and Mars, two locations we are destine to conquer.

“All of the above” is the policy that all political parties should be endorsing. Each energy source can be used collectively to achieve the arbitrary goal or limitation set on increased global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius by COP 21 (2015). Global Warming does not care what technology is used, just how much carbon is emitted.