Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Germany Shuts Down Nuclear Plants With No Plan For How To Make Up Energy Difference

In the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster and the Japanese quake/tsunami, Germany made the rash decision to shutter nuclear power plants across the country.

I say it was a rash decision, because instead of figuring out whether the country could actually handle the decision to take that many nuclear power plants offline, it decided that it would take the plants offline and see whether the country could handle the loss after the fact.
Nuclear plants have long generated nearly a quarter of Germany’s electricity. But after the tsunami and earthquake that sent radiation spewing from Fukushima, half a world away, the government disconnected the 8 oldest of Germany’s 17 reactors — including the two in this drab factory town — within days. Three months later, with a new plan to power the country without nuclear energy and a growing reliance on renewable energy, Parliament voted to close them permanently. There are plans to retire the remaining nine reactors by 2022.

As a result, electricity producers are scrambling to ensure an adequate supply. Customers and companies are nervous about whether their lights and assembly lines will stay up and running this winter. Economists and politicians argue over how much prices will rise.

“It’s easy to say, ‘Let’s just go for renewables,’ and I’m quite sure we can someday do without nuclear, but this is too abrupt,” said Joachim Knebel, chief scientist at Germany’s prestigious Karlsruhe Institute of Technology. He characterized the government’s shutdown decision as “emotional” and pointed out that on most days, Germany has survived this experiment only by importing electricity from neighboring France and the Czech Republic, which generate much of their power with nuclear reactors.

Then there are real concerns that the plan will jettison efforts to rein in manmade global warming, since whatever nuclear energy’s shortcomings, it is low in emissions. If Germany, the world’s fourth-largest economy, falls back on dirty coal-burning plants or uncertain supplies of natural gas from Russia, isn’t it trading a potential risk for a real one?

The world is watching Germany’s extreme energy makeover, as politicians from New York to Rome have floated their own plans to shut or shelve reactors.

The International Energy Agency, generally a fan of Germany’s green-leaning energy policy, has been critical. Laszlo Varro, head of the agency’s gas, coal and power markets division, called the plan “very, very ambitious, though it is not impossible, since Germany is rich and technically sophisticated.”

Even if Germany succeeds in producing the electricity it needs, “the nuclear moratorium is very bad news in terms of climate policy,” Mr. Varro said. “We are not far from losing that battle, and losing nuclear makes that unnecessarily difficult.”
Experts are expecting to see blackouts, brownouts, and economic losses as a result of a power generation system that is now far less robust and far more susceptible to disruptions because so much generating capacity is being taken offline in such short time without any new capacity being brought online.

The problems may not be felt immediately within Germany's borders, but they will be soon enough as other countries scramble to find generating capacity and are more likely to turn to gas and coal plants to make up the difference. The net result will be a worsening of air quality over Europe, and despite advances made on wind and solar power, there are times when those sources will not be sufficient to provide capacity.

Turning the back on nuclear power is a tremendous mistake, and one that Germans and the rest of Europe will come to regret.

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