Rhein on Energy and Climate

After 20 years of pause, Europe rediscovers nuclear energy.

Chernobyl seems forgotten. The steeply rising prices for oil, gas and coal make nuclear energy much more attractive than during the 1990s. Above all, politicians realise that they might be unable to meet 2020 EU targets for C02 emissions without a gentle push from C02 – free nuclear reactors.

Finland has given the start signal a few years ago, when launching the construction of its first nuclear reactor, with a capacity of 1600 MW also the world`s biggest ever built. The UK has followed suit with a drive to modernise and privatise its long- established nuclear industry. Last week the Italian government has formally announced its intention to return to nuclear, overturning a decision to freeze nuclear power in the wake of the Chernobyl accident 1986.

Most surprising the very recent declaration by the German chancellor – at the occasion of religious gathering! – that Germany is stupid shutting its proven reactors by 2022, when less safety-worthy countries across the world plan to go nuclear. This was a clear signal that the next German government to be formed in October 2009 should overturn the “nuclear exit decision” taken in 2004 by a coalition of Social-Democrats and Greens and confirmed by the present government coalition of Christian Democrats and Social-Democrats.

Such a reversal would make sense politically, environmentally and economically.

Germany cannot escape the risk of accident from any its nuclear neighbours. Why then abstain from operating nuclear reactors on its territory?

It is economically reasonable. Nuclear power provides base-load electricity at competitive costs. Germany will lose its technological and industrial expertise if it were no longer in the nuclear business domestically.

Last not least, Germany will find it very tough to reduce C02 emissions by 30 percent until 2020 by only resorting to wind parks, solar panels and coal-fired power plants with carbon sequestration.

This being said, nobody should believe that nuclear power will be the panacea for the world`s climate conundrum. Presently nuclear power supplies 16 percent of global electricity demand.

The EU draws 30 percent, France 76 percent of its electricity from nuclear reactors. It might raise that share to 50 percent, say by 2030. This would cover no more than some 20 percent of EU energy demand. Still, as a complement to wind and solar power, nuclear energy should have its place in the future energy supply. Considering its inherent safety risks and the unresolved issue of storing nuclear waste, it is not an ideal energy source. But weighed against the huge risk of making our planet inhabitable by burning all remaining fossil reserves, the nuclear risk appears to be the more acceptable one.

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  1. I do not see the point of building new reactors if the restoration of nuclear fuel uses up more fossil fules than it would take to produce the same amount of energy with a coal burning powerstation.
    And if the EU decides to build more reactors on european soil,they should found a new inspectores unit to see if these reactors meet european safety standards at all times.

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