Germany to Decommission All Nuclear Power Plants

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Germany to Decommission All Nuclear Power Plants

Postby KestrelLowing » Mon May 30, 2011 1:31 pm UTC

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-13592208
Spoiler:
Germany's coalition government has announced a reversal of policy that will see all the country's nuclear power plants phased out by 2022.

The decision makes Germany the biggest industrial power to announce plans to give up nuclear energy.

Environment Minister Norbert Rottgen made the announcement following late-night talks.

Chancellor Angela Merkel set up a panel to review nuclear power following the crisis at Fukushima in Japan.

There have been mass anti-nuclear protests across Germany in the wake of March's Fukushima crisis, triggered by an earthquake and tsunami.

'Sustainable energy'
Mr Rottgen said the seven oldest reactors - which were taken offline for a safety review immediately after the Japanese crisis - would never be used again. An eighth plant - the Kruemmel facility in northern Germany, which was already offline and has been plagued by technical problems, would also be shut down for good.

Six others would go offline by 2021 at the latest and the three newest by 2022, he said.

Mr Rottgen said: "It's definite. The latest end for the last three nuclear power plants is 2022. There will be no clause for revision."

Mr Rottgen said a tax on spent fuel rods, expected to raise 2.3bn euros (£1.9bn) a year from this year, would remain despite the shutdown.

Mrs Merkel's centre-right Christian Democrats met their junior partners on Sunday after the ethics panel had delivered its conclusions.

Before the meeting she said: "I think we're on a good path but very, very many questions have to be considered.

"If you want to exit something, you also have to prove how the change will work and how we can enter into a durable and sustainable energy provision."

The previous German government - a coalition of the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) and the Greens - decided to shut down Germany's nuclear power stations by 2021.

However, last September Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition scrapped those plans - announcing it would extend the life of the country's nuclear reactors by an average of 12 years.

Ministers said they needed to keep nuclear energy as a "bridging technology" to a greener future.

The decision to extend was unpopular in Germany even before the radioactive leaks at the Fukushima plant.

But following Fukushima, Mrs Merkel promptly scrapped her extension plan, and announced a review.

Greens boosted
Germany's nuclear industry has argued that an early shutdown would be hugely damaging to the country's industrial base.

Before March's moratorium on the older power plants, Germany relied on nuclear power for 23% of its energy.

The anti-nuclear drive boosted Germany's Green party, which took control of the Christian Democrat stronghold of Baden-Wuerttemberg, in late March.

Shaun Burnie, nuclear adviser for environmental campaign group Greenpeace International, told the BBC World Service that Germany had already invested heavily in renewable energy.

"The various studies from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change show that renewables could deliver, basically, global electricity by 2050," he said.

"Germany is going to be ahead of the game on that and it is going to make a lot of money, so the message to Germany's industrial competitors is that you can base your energy policy not on nuclear, not on coal, but on renewables."

Shares in German nuclear utilities RWE and E.On fell on the news, though it had been widely expected.

But it was good news for manufacturers of renewable energy infrustructure.

German solar manufacturer, Solarworld, was up 7.6% whilst Danish wind turbine maker Vestas gained more than 3%.


NOOOOOOOO!!!! This is a horrible idea. They've just shifted more of the energy needs to coal and gas power plants because solar and wind cannot be relied upon on a cloudy, windless day.

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Re: Germany to Decommission All Nuclear Power Plants

Postby Dark Avorian » Mon May 30, 2011 1:50 pm UTC

I really have nothing to say except "UGH"
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Re: Germany to Decommission All Nuclear Power Plants

Postby Deep_Thought » Mon May 30, 2011 2:23 pm UTC

I was wondering when this was going to get posted. It will be very interesting to see what happens next. Can a major industrial nation simultaneously de-carbonize, de-nuclearize* and maintain their economy? My money is on no, unless they just decide to import all their energy from France. Either way, at least we might get a definitive answer to that question.

*Is this really a word I honestly have no clue?

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Re: Germany to Decommission All Nuclear Power Plants

Postby Hawknc » Mon May 30, 2011 2:32 pm UTC

I would love for Germany to show the world that a major industrialised nation can be powered by renewable energy. From memory they want a target of around 35% renewables by 2020, approximately when these reactors will be shut down. That would be sufficient to replace the installed nuclear capacity, but does anyone more familiar with German energy policy know if that's even remotely realistic?

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Re: Germany to Decommission All Nuclear Power Plants

Postby achan1058 » Mon May 30, 2011 2:36 pm UTC

I am rather skeptical about this. I wonder what they would do when they realized they can't reach energy requirements without coal or nuclear plants?

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Re: Germany to Decommission All Nuclear Power Plants

Postby greengiant » Mon May 30, 2011 2:40 pm UTC

And even if they do manage to replace their nuclear power with renewables, that still means they'll still be using the same amount of fossil fuels. So from that point of view, they'd just be standing still (except for any separate initiatives to improve fossil fuel plants, etc) which seems a bit depressing.

Not that I'm against them developing renewables. Given that they're dropping nuclear, seems like the best thing to do.

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Re: Germany to Decommission All Nuclear Power Plants

Postby Hawknc » Mon May 30, 2011 2:43 pm UTC

Well, Germany already has something like 16% renewable energy. That's a metric ass-ton more than us here in Australia, despite less favourable insolation levels and higher population density. If anyone can do it, it's ze Germans.

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Re: Germany to Decommission All Nuclear Power Plants

Postby Eowiel » Mon May 30, 2011 2:49 pm UTC

achan1058 wrote:I am rather skeptical about this. I wonder what they would do when they realized they can't reach energy requirements without coal or nuclear plants?


Voting a law that you will do something in 10 years is a bit silly. Chances are that the ones who voted this law won't even be in power anymore by 2022, so it won't even be their call whether or not they go forward with it.

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Re: Germany to Decommission All Nuclear Power Plants

Postby Zamfir » Mon May 30, 2011 2:58 pm UTC

Well, it's not entirely a new policy, except for keeping the 7 older plants closed for good. The other closures were already planned, and the government has only decided not to reverse the law (as they originally intended to do). But even if the federal government had reversed the Ausstieg law, plants would still have needed to agree a life-time extension with their local state government, and there were no guarantees that that was going to be easy. So it's mostly a continuation of the old plan, not a completely new and unexpected development. On the other hand, German utilities were clearly hoping to reverse the Ausstieg, and probably not investing in new power plants as much as they would have done otherwise.

My company used to do a lot of work in Germany, and we were hoping for a lot of contracts in the coming years when their nuclear plants had to modernize for life extension. I guess that's out of the question now.

While this plan is drastic, I am also a bit bothered by the reaction to Fukushima in other countries, in particular France. The French know they cannot quit nuclear power, and that is not a healthy place to start a re-evalution of safety. I always felt pretty good about Germany, exactly because they could be relied on to close a plant if needed, no matter the financial consequences.

hawknc wrote:I would love for Germany to show the world that a major industrialised nation can be powered by renewable energy. From memory they want a target of around 35% renewables by 2020, approximately when these reactors will be shut down. That would be sufficient to replace the installed nuclear capacity, but does anyone more familiar with German energy policy know if that's even remotely realistic?

The people I know in the industry also expect more gas plants, a coal plant here or there, and more imports of power. More renewables is always possible, as long the financial system to pay for it is in place. But 35% is a lot, perhaps simply incredible by 2020. As far as I know, the only precedents for such grid penetration rely on hydro power or massive im- and export to balance the variations. I don't think current German grid connections to the outside could handle that, and I am not sure that the rest of Europe could counterbalance, especially if they invest in variable energy sources themselves.

But we'll see. The European grid as a whole (especially with even more interlinks) could dampen a lot more variability in wind power yet than it is currently doing, but at some point it will start to hurt. Where that point lies is still an open question I think.

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Re: Germany to Decommission All Nuclear Power Plants

Postby CorruptUser » Mon May 30, 2011 3:08 pm UTC

Or they could have all their coal/natural-gas plants run at full capacity and claim they don't produce too much carbon. Wouldn't be the first time a major government lied about its environmental policy...

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Re: Germany to Decommission All Nuclear Power Plants

Postby Zamfir » Mon May 30, 2011 3:11 pm UTC

@ corruptuser, they are very serious. If they cared about doing it cheap, they would keep the nuclear plants open. Doesn't mean they'll reach the 35% target, but they are going to try.

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Re: Germany to Decommission All Nuclear Power Plants

Postby el_loco_avs » Mon May 30, 2011 3:34 pm UTC

There was a hilarious bit in the dutch news yesterday. About this decision. They showed Vattenfalls large wind-energy park in the north of germany (large areas of former coal-mines). Which is awesome.

However, the german people are also blocking the powerlines from being built so the energy they are winning can go south to where most of it is used. So they need to get over that or they'll end up with a lot of energy that can't go anywhere.
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Re: Germany to Decommission All Nuclear Power Plants

Postby Dream » Mon May 30, 2011 4:21 pm UTC

Zamfir wrote:My company used to do a lot of work in Germany, and we were hoping for a lot of contracts in the coming years when their nuclear plants had to modernize for life extension. I guess that's out of the question now.
Are decommissioning contracts a possibility instead?

I'm ambivalent about new nuclear power, for reasons that aren't relevant here. But I think the worst way to go about maintaining a nuclear base load generation capacity in future is to try to extend the lives of cold war era reactor designs. If we must have it, and doubtless many nation must or rely on fossils, it should be new build designs with long lifetimes, not patched up designs extended far beyond their lifetimes. Bear in mind that these patched designs would have been decommissioned in the 2020's, so they would likely still be operating at a minimum in the 2050's. That is, the fundamental design from the seventies or eighties would still be generating seventy-odd years after it was built.

Better to bite the financial bullet now and build new reactors that will generate through perhaps the end of this century, than have a similar lifespan from an old design never meant to last so long being replaced in twenty or thirty years, and spend a lot of money on that anyway. We'd then reap the benefits of better efficiency, cleaner waste, and longer life, rather than just saving money this instant.

All that said, I don't doubt that Fukushima was a excuse trotted out for a decision likely prompted by the financial crisis requiring budget cuts.
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Re: Germany to Decommission All Nuclear Power Plants

Postby Zamfir » Mon May 30, 2011 4:54 pm UTC

@ dream, there is a large difference between the early 1970s plants and the 1980s designs. Especially in Germany, basically the technology leader in those years. Arguably, the last Konvoi reactors built in Germany might the best nuclear power plants in operation. The newer designs are not really that much better than those, the EPR is basically an N4 pimped up to match Konvoi standards. Germany's plants from the mid-eighties really could have run to the 2040s without much trouble.

But yeah, the older ones are not that much of a great waste. We have a German plant from 1973 here in the Netherlands, which will keep running to 2030 or so. But that plant already has lots of improvements made that the Germans didn't implement (because of the Ausstieg), and it is getting a bunch more. Doing all of that takes money too, and you still do not get the same quality as a new-built.

But the pain in closing the 1980s plants is not just the loss of decent reactors that could have worked for some decades. It's also a confidence hit for anyone who wants to invest in a reactor anywhere else. It's hard enough raise money that has to be earned back over 60 years. If public opinion can close a reactor even if it matches any safety standard around, you can't reliably hope to get those 60 years. It basically means government money or nothing.

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Re: Germany to Decommission All Nuclear Power Plants

Postby Mittagessen » Mon May 30, 2011 5:03 pm UTC

What the conservative coalition is doing is reversing the law that reversed the contract a red-green coalition negotiated in the early 2000s to scrap nuclear power completely by 2022. Which is fine by me if it wouldn't reek as much of hypocrisy as it does. Only weeks before Fukushima FDP and CDU politicians were claiming we would have rolling blackouts en masse and more or less implement the Morgenthau plan if all plants were to be shut down by 2022 and now they're doubting the safety of all plants and advocate a Ausstieg mit Augenmass.

el_loco_avs wrote:However, the german people are also blocking the powerlines from being built so the energy they are winning can go south to where most of it is used. So they need to get over that or they'll end up with a lot of energy that can't go anywhere.


There's actually a plan (granted developed by an institute affiliated with greenpeace) laying out how to produce 100% of German energy from renewable ressources, domestically. It even considers the conversion of the majority of transport to electric. While I believe that such a project wouldn't be possible in the current political climate, I'm fairly confident that the whole of Europe could be supplied by renewable energy if we plaster Spain with solar thermal plants, Middle Europe with wind power plants and use Norwegian hydro for the rest. But that would require building large capacity undersea and overland power lines. Heck if North Africa settles down in a few months and Desertec gets rolling I don't see how the average European would even have to limit her electric ernegy usage.
Europe is by far the easiest continent to supply completely by renewable power, the only thing lacking is political will. Integrating North Africa into the concept would make it relatively cheap, too.

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Re: Germany to Decommission All Nuclear Power Plants

Postby SummerGlauFan » Mon May 30, 2011 5:13 pm UTC

If Germany was serious about environmental responsibility, then they would close gas and coal plants and replace those with renewable energy.

This is just a PR stunt backed by idiotic anti-nuclear groups. Le sigh.
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Re: Germany to Decommission All Nuclear Power Plants

Postby Dream » Mon May 30, 2011 5:29 pm UTC

Zamfir wrote:@ dream, there is a large difference between the early 1970s plants and the 1980s designs. Especially in Germany, basically the technology leader in those years. Arguably, the last Konvoi reactors built in Germany might the best nuclear power plants in operation. The newer designs are not really that much better than those, the EPR is basically an N4 pimped up to match Konvoi standards. Germany's plants from the mid-eighties really could have run to the 2040s without much trouble.

What about as-yet-unbuilt designs? How would '80s technology measure up to what would be built 10 years from now (after the necessary planning and consultations), if new builds were used instead of extensions? I'd have thought that thirty years is a long time in reactor technology, and especially in fuel and reprocessing technology. Is there nothing to be said for building now for the next 50-80 years, rather than extending what's there for twenty or thirty?
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Re: Germany to Decommission All Nuclear Power Plants

Postby Deep_Thought » Mon May 30, 2011 5:45 pm UTC

Mittagessen wrote:I'm fairly confident that the whole of Europe could be supplied by renewable energy if we plaster Spain with solar thermal plants, Middle Europe with wind power plants and use Norwegian hydro for the rest. But that would require building large capacity undersea and overland power lines.

Oh how I wish that were true. I'd be interested to see the report you mentioned, as the one source of numbers on this topic I trust reckons that Europe cannot supply itself purely on renewables. See bottom of the page here. The solar plants really have to go right in the middle of north Africa.

Dream wrote:I'd have thought that thirty years is a long time in reactor technology, and especially in fuel and reprocessing technology.

Zamfir knows far more about this than I do, but my understanding is that reactor research has been pretty stagnant for the last couple of decades as no-one wants to fund anything to do with nuclear. Germany did have some very interesting pebble-bed designs in the pipeline but after an accident shut their research reactor. The current new build of UK and American plants are all based on old-designs :-(

SummerGlauFan wrote:This is just a PR stunt backed by idiotic anti-nuclear groups. Le sigh.

Surely der sigh?

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Re: Germany to Decommission All Nuclear Power Plants

Postby TheStrongest » Mon May 30, 2011 6:03 pm UTC

This is a very bad idea on Germany's part. Nuclear energy has the potential to create thousands of jobs, and eliminate the need for large use of fossil fuels. More research in the field could enable us to find a way to better dispose of the waste, causing much less environmental damage. All Germany is doing is creating a gap in its energy market, which will likely be filled by coal and gas power plants. Realistically, Germany doesn't have the potential to support large solar energy complexes; Southern Europe and North Africa do. Likewise, the Baltic has smaller waves and calmer waters than the North, giving less of an opportunity for wave power.

You could always dam the Rhine River, but that would be quite counterproductive for these eco-types, yes? :mrgreen:

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Re: Germany to Decommission All Nuclear Power Plants

Postby Sheikh al-Majaneen » Mon May 30, 2011 6:11 pm UTC

This will certainly help them reach that 35% renewable energy goal in 2020. All those megawatt hours that would come from nuclear energy are being taken off the grid.

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Re: Germany to Decommission All Nuclear Power Plants

Postby Gellert1984 » Mon May 30, 2011 6:43 pm UTC

el_loco_avs wrote:However, the german people are also blocking the powerlines from being built so the energy they are winning can go south to where most of it is used. So they need to get over that or they'll end up with a lot of energy that can't go anywhere.


Whenever I see news articles with such people my usual response is 'ok, you dont want us building infrastructure in your neighbourhood? No problem! We'll remove ALL the infrastructure from your neighbourhood!' I would make an awesome dictator.
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Re: Germany to Decommission All Nuclear Power Plants

Postby Mittagessen » Mon May 30, 2011 6:45 pm UTC

Deep_Thought wrote:Oh how I wish that were true. I'd be interested to see the report you mentioned, as the one source of numbers on this topic I trust reckons that Europe cannot supply itself purely on renewables. See bottom of the page here. The solar plants really have to go right in the middle of north Africa.


My google foo is weak today. I just found this overview: Link.
The solar plants go exactly were they are the most convenient. Relatively close to the coast, but not were they would interfere with major population centres. As far as I know even building plants in Spain isn't a waste of ressources.
I haven't read through a lot of the pages of your link but it seems a little bit dubious to me. Especially the "building solar plants in other peoples deserts" is ignoring the fact, that the European Union certainly has no qualms making North Africa little more than satellite states or colonies. It's been happening for the last decade and if supporting the next round of dictators down there to suppress migration and provide us with cheap energy is what it takes so the average European doesn't have to see too many brown people and can still drive her (now electric) car down the autobahn nobody will think a second about it.
Additionally, nobody is seriously advocating putting photovoltaic panels on every roof in middle and northern Europe (at least not to solve the energy crisis. I'ts more like a major subsidy for a whole industry kind of deal.) The whole book seems to be rather UK-centric and I agree that Great Britain is probably not in the best position to create all power domestically (just like any other single European country).

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Re: Germany to Decommission All Nuclear Power Plants

Postby Zamfir » Mon May 30, 2011 7:00 pm UTC

Zamfir knows far more about this than I do, but my understanding is that reactor research has been pretty stagnant for the last couple of decades as no-one wants to fund anything to do with nuclear. Germany did have some very interesting pebble-bed designs in the pipeline but after an accident shut their research reactor. The current new build of UK and American plants are all based on old-designs

Half true, half false, I think. Thing is, safety is not so much about big bold ideas. It's for a very large about experience, about taking the lessons from the previous design, building and operation, and using that from the start in the new design, and in better regulations. Aircraft are many times safer nowadays than a few decades ago, without any grondbreaking development underlying that.

By the 1980s, Siemens and Westinghouse were the cutting edge in light water design, and they were incorporating the lessons from the big wave of power plants in the 1970s. After TMI, Westinghouse went back to the drawing board for a new design from scratch (which they never gout to build), Siemens continued on a more evolutionary path and managed to build three, finishing in 1988, but no more.

So there was a genuine loss in experience there, because the people who did keep building were far behind. The French, Japanese, Koreans were all learning by improving on older US designs. In the 1990s, the French (both industry and government) basically merged with the German system, ance built up their own now extensive experience. But only in the mid nineties or so were they ready to design something that would improve on the last Siemens generation.

Actual design work takes many years more, and they started building in Finland in 2003 or so, with all the problems of a first build of a new design. They are only finishing now, and this (with some tweaks) is what they propose for the UK. Compared to Konvoi, the EPR is especially more designed for severe accident situations, because the Konvois were too close after TMI to take lessons fully I.to account. So it's probably really better than the best of the 1980s, but not a giant leap. But important part of that is that the best of the 1980s was actually pretty good, you could really build those again and meet nearly any modern regulations. At some point, the big problems are simply identified and understood.

Westinghouse has taken a different route, and did try to make more than a gradual improvement. That concept dates from around 1990, but keep in mind that Westinghouse really has the most experience of all, so their 1990 is still unmatched by nearly anybody else, with the French now only perhaps matching them, and the Koreans probably not quite yet (but I do not know enough about them). Their AP1000 has neat ideas to make them less reliant on electricity, making it Perhaps a genuine improvement. But it is also a paper design, with no similar plants out there to learn lessons from.

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Re: Germany to Decommission All Nuclear Power Plants

Postby Deep_Thought » Mon May 30, 2011 9:21 pm UTC

Mittagessen wrote:My google foo is weak today. I just found this overview: Link.

Hmmm. Due to my German being, well, nicht sehr gut, I may be mis-understanding, but the final page of that document indicates that they have based all their calculations off reducing German energy consumption by two-thirds through energy efficiency. If you make that assumption then powering just about any country via renewables is feasible. I'd hazard it's not a very good assumption though.

I haven't read through a lot of the pages of your link but it seems a little bit dubious to me. Especially the "building solar plants in other peoples deserts" is ignoring the fact, that the European Union certainly has no qualms making North Africa little more than satellite states or colonies... The whole book seems to be rather UK-centric

The book is UK-centric. It was written by a UK physicist who got fed up with not being able to find the figures people were using to make their arguments, so he went and researched his own. It's fairly unbiased, and he certainly doesn't ignore the fact that building solar plants in North Africa is going to be problematic, both technically and very much politically. I agree, but from an energy point of view that's the best place to put them.

If you flick back a few pages he outlines 5 different ways that the UK could generate it's power sustainably, and invites you to take your pick of which you prefer. It gives a really good introduction to the trade-offs any country has to face in choosing where to get their energy.

@Zamfir - as always thanks for explaining what's in my head better than I can!

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Re: Germany to Decommission All Nuclear Power Plants

Postby Dream » Mon May 30, 2011 10:08 pm UTC

Deep_Thought wrote:he certainly doesn't ignore the fact that building solar plants in North Africa is going to be problematic, both technically and very much politically

We'd best make friends with the new Tunisian and Libyan governments then :) Everybody wins!
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Re: Germany to Decommission All Nuclear Power Plants

Postby Goplat » Mon May 30, 2011 10:52 pm UTC

Here's the elephant in the room regarding nuclear power: it's only economical because the public is forced to suck up the risk. A nuclear accident could cause trillions in damages, but good luck trying to levy that kind of fine on a company, so the cost would end up getting foisted on the public. Many countries make nuclear power companies buy insurance, but in all cases it's an absolute joke, having to cover nowhere near the actual amount an accident could cost.

Here's an article with some details. Note that in Germany specifically, it's estimated that the worst-case scenario of a nuclear accident could cause €7.6 trillion in damages, but plant operators only need to have insurance covering up to €2.5 billion. If they actually had to pay for real insurance, it would become by far their biggest cost, and the price of the power produced would increase by a factor of 15!

In light of this, it appears Germany is making the rational choice.

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Re: Germany to Decommission All Nuclear Power Plants

Postby paulisa » Tue May 31, 2011 4:50 am UTC

Concerning the plans to increase the use of renewables and improving the power grid: I recently (2-3 weeks ago) read an article about plans for massive hydropower plants in Norway, with an undersea line connecting them to Germany (Germany being the largest investor IIRC). There are also plans to use the railway-grid as a stopgap if new power lines cannot be put in place soon enough because of protests. I find most of these protests ridiculous because the people at the front are of the tinfoil-hat variety, the kind of people who complain about headaches suddenly flaring up because a cell-phone transmitter was built (not turned on) near them, but I think there are ecologically sensitive areas which should, if possible, be avoided when planing new lines. A powerful trans-European grid should be one of the priorities in current energy-politics, but at the moment it's a combination of NIMBY and a narrow-mindedness (country-mindedness) of the politicians involved.

Regarding that elephant over there, the problem is compounded by population density and the small area of Europe. If a plant somewhere near the middle has a spectacular accident, pretty much *everyone* is affected. If something goes wrong with a solar powerplant in the Sahara, almost no one is affected.
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Re: Germany to Decommission All Nuclear Power Plants

Postby achan1058 » Tue May 31, 2011 7:02 am UTC

paulisa wrote:Regarding that elephant over there, the problem is compounded by population density and the small area of Europe. If a plant somewhere near the middle has a spectacular accident, pretty much *everyone* is affected. If something goes wrong with a solar powerplant in the Sahara, almost no one is affected.
Unless that something is war, which are less likely to occur with plants within Europe.

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Re: Germany to Decommission All Nuclear Power Plants

Postby Deep_Thought » Tue May 31, 2011 9:03 am UTC

Goplat wrote:Here's the elephant in the room regarding nuclear power: it's only economical because the public is forced to suck up the risk. A nuclear accident could cause trillions in damages

While I agree with the main point of that article, there is a very telling quote from Ban Ki Moon in the middle of your linked article:
Yet the record requires us to ask painful questions: have we correctly calculated its risks and costs?

Yes, the full cost of a catastrophic accident in central Germany, or down the road from New York City, would be trillions. But you have to multiply that by the probability of such an event actually happening, which is why I bolded the could when quoting you. We seem to be pretty lousy at making such calculations. My big issue with such statements is that often the people making them seem to think we should abandon anything with the word "nuclear" in it, including research into better, safer reactor designs which could mitigate those risks.

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Re: Germany to Decommission All Nuclear Power Plants

Postby Vash » Tue May 31, 2011 10:34 am UTC

So, today is the day that we get to call Germans and Germany stupid. Take that, Europompites.

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Re: Germany to Decommission All Nuclear Power Plants

Postby Zamfir » Tue May 31, 2011 11:56 am UTC

Vash wrote:So, today is the day that we get to call Germans and Germany stupid. Take that, Europompites.

I personally don't really like this as approach to nuclear power. There are are very real risks involved, and our understanding of those risks will never be perfect. The people involved have to accept that they might be wrong, that certain risks will greater than they thought.

Once you start calling people 'stupid' for judging the risk higher than you do, you are in dangerous territory. It's a mindset that makes you less likely to listen to disagreements with your views, makes it hard to accept that you might be wrong (after all,that would make the stupid people right), and it also makes you less likely to take precautions in case you are misjudging risks. It's how you get to build a plant near New York, because only stupid people could think that you might ever want to evacuate the area.

Here's the thing: if you want safe nuclear power, you want people in charge who take the risks very serious, and who are willing to reverse decisions if the risks are greater than they thought earlier. You don't want people in charge who laugh at the cowards, and who stick to their decisions no matter what happens.

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Re: Germany to Decommission All Nuclear Power Plants

Postby Plasma Man » Tue May 31, 2011 12:13 pm UTC

I'm not going to go so far as to call them stupid, though I think that the judgement of any government that makes policy based on newspaper headlines is questionable (so that would be all of them :wink: ). I do think it's a bad idea for them to be doing this; it will be very difficult for them to fill the gap that this leaves in their energy supplies. On the other hand, Germany is one of the best countries when it comes to getting its energy needs from renewables, so if any country can manage to dramatically increase the amount of renewables in their energy supplies, they're the ons that will manage to do it.
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Re: Germany to Decommission All Nuclear Power Plants

Postby zmatt » Tue May 31, 2011 12:36 pm UTC

Zamfir wrote:
Vash wrote:So, today is the day that we get to call Germans and Germany stupid. Take that, Europompites.

I personally don't really like this as approach to nuclear power. There are are very real risks involved, and our understanding of those risks will never be perfect. The people involved have to accept that they might be wrong, that certain risks will greater than they thought.

Once you start calling people 'stupid' for judging the risk higher than you do, you are in dangerous territory. It's a mindset that makes you less likely to listen to disagreements with your views, makes it hard to accept that you might be wrong (after all,that would make the stupid people right), and it also makes you less likely to take precautions in case you are misjudging risks. It's how you get to build a plant near New York, because only stupid people could think that you might ever want to evacuate the area.

Here's the thing: if you want safe nuclear power, you want people in charge who take the risks very serious, and who are willing to reverse decisions if the risks are greater than they thought earlier. You don't want people in charge who laugh at the cowards, and who stick to their decisions no matter what happens.


I think he was more taking a jab at the Germans for making a "dumb" decision when ironically Europeans call Americans stupid. I'm not going to defend my countrymen too much as I see a lot of stupidity on a daily basis but I doubt the Germans are somehow smarter. Their work ethic....well that's another matter altogether.


Back on topic, I agree. I am for Nuclear power as I see it as the only "green" energy source that has any shot at actually contributing a large and reliable percentage to the power grid. Solar and Wind are unreliable and don't have near the energy density of a nuclear or coal plant. People are always afraid of the risks involved with nuclear power, but I look at it this way. In total number of deaths so far nuclear is safer, that includes anyone who may be killed by the Fukishima meltdown. Nuclear is also far more mature in it's development than solar and wind and unlike the others has about 50 years of widespread deployment in the real world. We know the risks and we know how to handle them. TMI, Chernobyl and Fukishima were not the fault of nuclear power or even the rectors poor designs really. It was all human error. For two the error in operation the other an error in administration. If you want to be honest about nuclear power then you have to admit that the problems are related to the fact that humans are dumb and cut corners, even in places like Japan where cultural norms and stereotypes would make you think it was impossible. When you realize that you discover that no power source is really any safer than another because it's still run by humans.
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Re: Germany to Decommission All Nuclear Power Plants

Postby Dream » Tue May 31, 2011 12:52 pm UTC

Plasma Man wrote:I'm not going to go so far as to call them stupid, though I think that the judgement of any government that makes policy based on newspaper headlines is questionable (so that would be all of them :wink: ).

This is almost certainly a financially motivated decision. A few years ago you could trumpet a costly reversal of a popular policy and expect to survive as a government. And that's what happened. Today, forging ahead with any project costing in the billions is politically very risky. I'd say everyone in the German government, pro and anti nuclear, was likely very happy to see the expenses of the improvements off the books. That way they can get back to giving money to Greece to prevent the Euro collapsing.
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Re: Germany to Decommission All Nuclear Power Plants

Postby KestrelLowing » Tue May 31, 2011 1:07 pm UTC

I know I can't make anyone believe that Nuclear is actually safe, but I'd like to mention something:

I worked at a nuclear power plant last summer as an intern. While I HATED my job (power generation really isn't for me) I got to see and get a good handle on the safety precautions put in place at the plant. Note that this plant could easily be thought of as the 'little hoe-dunk plant' - there's a larger nuclear plant right down the road and the plant I worked at only had one reactor (most have two).

First off, it wasn't built on a fault line (I think this is a major issue - location is very, very important), the amount of preparation they did in case of a meltdown is quite astonishing (it consists of figuring out if basically everything fails, what can be done, plans to evacuate the surrounding areas, manual shutoffs if the electronic ones don't work, etc.), the security is insane (took them 2 months to do my background check and I don't even have a speeding ticket to my name, I walked through a metal detector and a bomb sniffer everyday, my hand geometry was used to let me into the plant, there are many, many guards with machine guns, they hire people every so often to attempt to break into the power plant), they have many, many drills with a simulation reactor and just with the people at the plant, and employee safety is very, very important (I was trained how to dress out for containment, even though everyone knew I'd never do it. There are tons of precautions and meters - you get frisked every day when you walk out to make sure you're safe and that everyone that comes into contact with you is safe)

Another great thing is that the nuclear industry is very, very open. If something goes wrong in a plant, every other plant knows about it and does everything they can to make sure the problem doesn't happen there. The NRC does regular inspections to make certain that all plants are making everything as safe as possible. Of course this is in America, but my guess is these kind of precautions are taken nearly everywhere.

Basically, they take safety very, very seriously, and this is a little tiny backwater plant. The main safety problems with the plants are just that they're old. While they always do inspections to make sure everything is running smoothly and well, reactors could be safer if they were just newer. We've learned a lot since the 70s.

Also, just another indication of how seriously they take safety - my job was to make sure that every component in the plant had an up-to-date manual on file, just in case they needed it. The job sucked, majorly, but I think it just shows how serious safety is, at least in US plants.

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Re: Germany to Decommission All Nuclear Power Plants

Postby Zamfir » Tue May 31, 2011 1:43 pm UTC

Dream wrote:This is almost certainly a financially motivated decision. A few years ago you could trumpet a costly reversal of a popular policy and expect to survive as a government. And that's what happened. Today, forging ahead with any project costing in the billions is politically very risky. I'd say everyone in the German government, pro and anti nuclear, was likely very happy to see the expenses of the improvements off the books. That way they can get back to giving money to Greece to prevent the Euro collapsing.

I don't really understand you here. Perhaps you are thinking of France, where the national government owns most of the utilities? German nuclear plants are owned by private companies* (although some of those are owned by the Swedish and French government in turn). The investments would have been made by them, if they expected a positive return on them (which they did expect for most plants, perhaps not for the oldest). The federal government wil only lose money on this deal, since nuclear plants pay a significant extra tax per kWh.

zmatt wrote:TMI, Chernobyl and Fukishima were not the fault of nuclear power or even the rectors poor designs really. It was all human error. For two the error in operation the other an error in administration. If you want to be honest about nuclear power then you have to admit that the problems are related to the fact that humans are dumb and cut corners, even in places like Japan where cultural norms and stereotypes would make you think it was impossible. When you realize that you discover that no power source is really any safer than another because it's still run by humans.

Well, there is genuine difference between power sources that can (and do) release loads of carcinogens in an accident, and those that cannot. Treating one as "not really any safer" than the other is a bit misleading, IMO.

For the rest, I am not sure you can make a difference between "nuclear power" and the people that are design, build and run it. No one cares whether nuclear power is safe in some abstract idealization, we care whether it is safe in the real world, with real people. In particular: any system of nuclear power, no matter how well run, has to make trade-offs between cost and safety. At some point, you have to decide that is is basically safe enough, and that you will only add more safety if that is affordable. People are making such decisions all the time. Do we need 10 cm extra concrete? Do we need an extra diesel engine? An extra inspection round? Do we assume the failure of these two systems at the same time, or these two plus that one over there? A 6.0 earthquake or an 6.5 earthquake? Do we shut down the reactor for this repair, or do we repair it while running? Etc, etc.

And yeah, if those decisions are done wrong, it's human error. But you have to make the decisions anyway. So the question is, can we make a system where we make the right decisions, and where wrong decisions are not excessivly dangerous?

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Re: Germany to Decommission All Nuclear Power Plants

Postby Kulantan » Tue May 31, 2011 1:51 pm UTC

Zamfir wrote:Well, there is genuine difference between power sources that can (and do) release loads of carcinogens in an accident, and those that cannot. Treating one as "not really any safer" than the other is a bit misleading, IMO.

What, only cancer counts now?
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[url=http://www.dailykos.com/comments/386452/13764941#c169?mode=alone;showrate=1#c169]bryfry[/url] wrote:that your "Russian Roulette point" is ridiculously silly. You take something as serious as risk analysis and trivialize it by comparing it to a game. You take the worst-case scenario and associate it with a one-in-six chance. Risk is a combination of the magnitude of the consequence of an event and its probability.

It is obvious, however, that you have no idea how risk works, and I am mocking you for making a clearly stupid analogy. Your attempts at logic to explain your failed analogy are even more pathetic.

But, if you want to bring up Chernobyl (your one data point), let's run with it.

The UN says that Chernobyl will result in less than 4000 eventual deaths. These are not real deaths -- i.e., the UN doesn't have the names of these dead people and they don't know where the bodies are buried. This is an estimate based on a very conservative extrapolation using a theory that has not been proven to be true. In a sense, these are "theoretical" deaths. The UN does not say that 4000 people will die, they say that no more than 4000 people can be expected to die. The UN can attribute only 56 deaths directly to the accident.

But for the sake of argument, we'll assume the 4000 deaths are real, since this number is small potatoes compared to the 26,000 people who died from flooding and another 145,000 who are estimated to have died from the epidemics and famine that followed the Banqiao Dam failure.

You didn't want to compare nuclear to hydro, however, you wanted to compare it to wind. So let's do that.

Wind power is not as safe as you assume.

For example, take a look at the Contemporary Wind Mortality Rates that have been compiled by Paul Gipe, a wind proponent. In his article, he arrives at 0.15 deaths associated with wind generation per TWh of electricity produced. How much is that? Well, not much considering how little energy has been produced by wind in the last couple of decades, compared with other sources. It amounts to 32 deaths in the database he has compiled. These are real people, with real faces and names (some of which are included in the database), who are really dead, and wind energy was somehow involved.

Now, let's compare this to nuclear energy. In the 20 years following the Chernobyl accident (1986-2005), nuclear reactors throughout the world produced over 43 PWh of net electricity. Now, at a rate of 0.15 deaths per TWh, that's over 6400 deaths! Wind is dangerous stuff.

Wind is getting better, however; the statistics added to the database since the article was written has lowered the rate to 1/3 of that or 0.05 deaths per TWh (2100 deaths for 1986-2005), but is this the result of a safer industry or simply increased electricity production, particularly in Europe?

Well, I notice that most of the entries in the database are from the US, and being a North American, perhaps Gipe simply catches more accidents in the US than in Europe, which does have a larger wind industry. Sure enough, looking at just the statistics for just the US (as of 2005), the number increases to 0.18 deaths per TWh (7700 deaths for 1986-2005); however, still not trusting the numbers completely, I decided to do my own calculation.

I calculate from the EIA's data for wind energy consumption, that wind generated approximately 100 TWh of energy in the US between 1989-2005. In that time, Gipe's database shows 10 deaths in the US, for a rate of 0.1 deaths per TWh of energy produced. This gives an expected 4300 deaths from wind, if it had produced as much energy as nuclear has produced since Chernobyl.

Since you asked, "How many people could have died? vs how many people could have died from a Wind farm ... ?" and since you assert that "It's not how many people have died, it's how many people could conceivably die." Well, you have your answer. When comparing apples to apples (and TWh to TWh), we see that

number of people who could conceivably die from Chernobyl: 4000
number of people who could conceivably die from the wind industry: 4300
I'd say they're comparable. So until you come back here to complain that wind power is too dangerous and should be avoided, please keep your ridiculous "Russian roulette" points to yourself.

Or does it only count when it is accidentally released?
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Re: Germany to Decommission All Nuclear Power Plants

Postby Plasma Man » Tue May 31, 2011 2:01 pm UTC

Zamfir wrote:I personally don't really like this as approach to nuclear power. There are are very real risks involved, and our understanding of those risks will never be perfect. The people involved have to accept that they might be wrong, that certain risks will greater than they thought.
It's fairly obvious that this isn't about risk, though. If the German reactors were in an area likely to to be struck by large earthquakes, or hit with a tsunami, then reassessing the risks in light of what happened in Japan would make sense. The thing is, they're not. The safety picture at German plants hasn't changed at all, it's only the perception of the risks that have changed. I would suggest that making policy based on perception of risk, whether that be higher or lower than reality, entails more risk than policy based on reality.

Regarding your point about whether nuclear power is safe in the real world, I refer you zmatt's point about nuclear being safer by virtue of causing fewer deaths than other sources, something which is supported by my reading as well. The situation is very similar to that of air travel when compared to car travel. Car travel kills a lot more people than air travel, but the deaths caused by car travel get a lot less attention because they are a steady trickle of deaths, whereas aircraft crashes are big, dramatic incidents.
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Re: Germany to Decommission All Nuclear Power Plants

Postby Dream » Tue May 31, 2011 2:13 pm UTC

Zamfir wrote:Perhaps you are thinking of France, where the national government owns most of the utilities? German nuclear plants are owned by private companies* (although some of those are owned by the Swedish and French government in turn). The investments would have been made by them, if they expected a positive return on them (which they did expect for most plants, perhaps not for the oldest). The federal government wil only lose money on this deal, since nuclear plants pay a significant extra tax per kWh.

You mean the redevelopments wouldn't have been subsidised at all? Can you cite that? Out of interest, I'm not suggesting you're wrong, I'd actually really like to see a costing for a nuclear project in Europe that doesn't need some kind of subsidy from a national government.
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Re: Germany to Decommission All Nuclear Power Plants

Postby Zamfir » Tue May 31, 2011 3:07 pm UTC

Kulantan, two things. First, those 4000 cancers from Chernobyl are not the entire story. Read the report, really. Those are the thyroid cancers (few of them lethal) that were statistically linked to high iodine-ingestion in the first few days in the neighbourhood of the plant. They are the main group of cancers that are observably caused by Chernobyl.

The more problematic (and very uncertain) group are the cancers caused by long term, wide-area exposure to longer lived isotopes, especially Cesium-137. Even conservative models do not predict a statistically significant amount of cancer in that group. But "statistically insignificant" does not mean "none" or "very little". It just means that we cannot statistically separate even tens of thousands of extra cancers from the far larger normal rate of cancers you would find among tens of millions of people and over decades. That doesn't mean they were not there, we have good reasons to assume in the order of tens of thousands more cancers. But we cannot reliably measure them, so the uncertainty is extremely high. Of course, tens of thousands of cancer doesn't mean tens of thousands of deaths, but it is a lot of suffering anyway.

Second, there is a difference between a small, observable and fairly continuous rate of accidents like falls from wind towers on the one hand, and rare, somewhat unpredictable large accidents on the other hand. Not that dying from one is worse than in the other.

But in the first case, there is feedback. You can observe the real risk, identify the main sources of risk, and work on them. But for rare, spread out events you lack such a feedback mechanism. You only get non-theoretical feedback about the real risks when it is really already too late. It is easier to be mistaken about the risks, and harder to improve. So you have to be far more careful.

You mean the redevelopments wouldn't have been subsidised at all? Can you cite that? Out of interest, I'm not suggesting you're wrong, I'd actually really like to see a costing for a nuclear project in Europe that doesn't need some kind of subsidy from a national government.

No cites here for Germany (where they never started on them), but I think you can trust me on this. Life extensions are seen as the goose with the golden egg really. They are in the hundreds of millions of euros, not the billions of new-builds. Here's a story on Sweden, perhaps the country with most life-extensions already done. NEI is not the most reliable source but this is fairly non-controversial stuff: http://www.neimagazine.com/story.asp?storyCode=2052709. Some Swedish utilities are state-owned, but these are not I think. Germany’s EOn might even own part of them.

Also, Olkiluoto was completely privately financed I think, although there Areva picked up the financial risks of cost overruns (and behind Areva is the French state). Still, I have heard that the Finns were interested in yet another one even without such a generous deal, at least before Fukushima. I am not sure what the insurance deal is in Finland. They have unlimited financial liability for nuclear plants, but I am not sure what the legally required insurance is.


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