German here. Some more context that I feel is missing from your article. First of all, yes, that we still fund the Russian madness is sickening and the reluctance of our government to support Ukraine more is ... disturbing, to say the least.
Now, with that out of the way, back to nuclear energy. I believe that one of the reasons why it is widely not considering a "good" option is because it is basically a dead horse. Ever since (and even before) Fukushima when it was decided to phase out nuclear energy, there has been a constant lobbying from the fossil fuel industry to revert the decision or extend it. No reason was too stupid: high living costs: lets keep nuclear. Refugee crisis: lets keep nuclear. Bank crisis: lets keep nuclear. Whatever was on the agenda, you could bet on the fact that someone came up with the brilliant plan to "just prolong nuclear". Now we have the war in Ukraine and guess what idea is coming up .... I am not saying you are wrong necessarily but that thing is just burned.
The key problem is of course that by shutting down nuclear, renewables should have filled in the gap. Should have. Instead, the past 12 or more years we did everything to buy gas from Russia becoming more and more dependent. And now the shit is hitting the fan.
Ah, and finally. There is truly a huge disbelief that nuclear waste can be handled safely with the political personnel we have. That comes from the fact that even the most die-hard defenders of nuclear energy suddenly feel that their Bundesland is way too beautiful to host a nuclear waste site (looking at you Bavaria). That goes as far as actively blocking a scientific survey to find the best spot in Germany to set up such a place.
Nothing of what I wrote solve the problem at hand. I just wanted to give some context here.
Some clarification on how public opinion in Germany doesn't seem to change politics here:
The German Greens are founded on the opposition of nuclear power.
They simply cannot renounce that position without letting the whole party explode.
I guess green voters might be able to convince, but the party members would just end the government instead.
I usually like your essays very much. They are very informative and thougtful. They helped me especially during the Covid crisis, thank you very much for publishing them.
This time I am sorry, this just reads like German bashing for whatever reason.
Disclaimer: I am german and I hope this doesn't result in any ad hominem arguments.
First of all, you base all your reasoning on a paper from the ministries that was published March 7th.
This is quite some time ago, and as you know, the official positions, the sanctions against russia have changed quite a bit and the war crimes committed by Russia have escalated over the last 5 weeks in a way that is hard to comprehend.
We currently do not know if they are reconsidering nuclear power and you do not list any of Mr. Habeck other efforts to reduce our dependency on Russian gas as fast as possible (for example his trips to Katar).
In the paper (btw, there is a spelling mistake in the link, it should read https://www.bmuv.de/fileadmin/Daten_BMU/Download_PDF/Nukleare_Sicherheit/laufzeitverlaengerung_akw_bf.pdf) there is one paragraph that I find neglected:
"Extending the operating lives of the three nuclear power plants still in operation
would not generate any additional electricity in the winter of 2022/2023 (stretch operation),
but from the fall of 2023 at the earliest, after refueling with newly manufactured fuel rods."
How would extending them help *now* to reduce gas consumption, as your reasoning is that Germany needs to act quick and decisive to not pay Billions of Euro to Russia thus financially supporting the war.
All your reasoning regaring changing laws, finding personell and equipment are in itself correct, albeit you make it sound so very easy to just sort out all difficulties that exist.
Additionally, it is just interessting to assume, that one could just switch back to nuclear power (and reduce gas) like flipping a switch. This is technically neither easy nor fast.
Again a lot of your points are valid, it is good to publish them, it is good to keep all administrations honest (well, sorta), this time being Germany, but please don't make it feel like bashing or it just being super easy, because at least for me, it doent's help but create an inner resistance to your arguments.
And just to make this clear:
I absolutly despise Putin, the war and the genocide Russia commits.
I am all for more sanctions, reducing the gas import from Russia to zero and am willing to endure any negative effects, because this is nothing compared to the horrors the ukranian people have to endure.
But please don't make it sound like everything is just easy and we or our government are just too stupid or plain unwilling to do anything.
Thanks for the fine overview of the not-fine situation.
In your "I’m lucky to understand the risks" paragraph, your arithmetic is off. 5% of 0.001% is 0.00005% (you have an extra 0 there), and both numbers are WAGs that communicate poorly. The original (per your footnote), as "1 in 100,000 reactor years" is more communicative and illustrates the wild-ass nature of the guessing. I also note that Table 1 of the IAEA Bulletin you link to has a gross blunder in the penultimate row, the product that should be 2 x 10^-6 is shown 4 orders of magnitude larger. Whoopsadaisy.
All for the argument that Germany can and should do more! And that all levers should be looked at.
However, I wanted to point out to you that your estimate of the impact is by around an order of magnitude off. The impact of prolonging the 3 nukes is around 0.6% of total gas consumption, or maybe 1-2% of Russian imports. As background: I'm a German energy economist. Quick bottom up calculation:
Germany consumes 1000TWh of gas. 3 remaining nukes produce around 30 TWh electricity (4GW*7500h). To produce that you need around 60TWh thermal input (simplified 50% fuel efficiency). So 6% is the absolute upper bound of any estimate. However, as other tech are in the mix, coal reserves already reactivated & nukes run as base load, while at current prices gas is only used during peak hours, the additional gas mitigation by keeping these nukes is around 6TWh, or 0.6% (here's an in-depth analysis unfortunately in German: https://t.co/jTUuAUTSJZ).
The issues, where I where your calculation is arriving at the wrong numbers is:
- Only 15% of gas goes into electricity generation. The 30% includes heat delivered by combined-heat-and-power plants. Some statistics don't manage to differentiate that out. Furthermore, the 15% includes the electricity from these CHPs units. So you cannot cut those out without them stopping to deliver heat, as these are co-products.
- you take the 2021 year of 10% as a baseline for the remaining 3 nukes, but that year we still had nearly double the capacity.
- you miss out on the merit order effects. There's a reason why 3GW nukes cannot substitute 30GW of gas. Germany has already reactivated hard-coal plants to get more capacity online.
Really interesting! On the other hand, here there are some justifications with numbers and articles. what do you think about it? Thanks
I'm loving the charts and detailed numbers. Yet this article sounds more like complaining about politicians & government 🥸 Even the title is as such.
What about focusing on a solution…
What about making an article: "How Germans can Stop Fueling Russia's War Machine"… and provide *solutions* to each of the 'excuses' highlighted in this article…
Just like with most any democratic platform issue, the idea of not going nuclear can be debunked by:
1) what is the cost benefit?
2) compared to what?
3) Do you have any evidence?
It’s all just virtue-signal grandstanding. At a huge cost, this time in 1000s of lives per month.
Super interesting, Tomas. Muchas gracias for sharing.
One compelling reason to keep nuclear permanently resides in the fact that intermittent renewables cannot supply energy when those resources are not available. If the world hopes to reach net zero CO2 emissions, it will CATEGORICALLY have to use nuclear energy. There is no choice. This decision by the Green Party is caused by a combination of stupidity and fascism.
Excellent article Tomas.
It is really funny but also expected to read comments from some Germans stating that this article is "anti German" or bashing German politicians. Oh.... these Germans....so sensitive...
1) Disclaimer. I am an engineer with 30 years of experience. I have worked and lived in Spain, France, USA, Switzerland and I live and work in Germany since 2010. So I have some info on different ways of working styles...
2) I remember very well the day (I was working in Germany) Frau Merkel (Phd in quantum chemistry) announced that ALL German nuclear power plants will be closed because there was a Tsunami in Fukushima. This was despite the fact that a tsunami does no happen often in Bavaria or Baden-Württemberg..... But the green votes were growing and hey! we (CDU) needed some votes. And it is cool also.
3) That day a colleague in the research institute where I was working was completely infuriated by what he considered a stupid decision based in emotions and not in facts. He was working in the renewable energy lab of ditto research institute. Specifically in wind energy. So not very pro nuclear exactly I would say...
4) It puzzles people outside Germany why the government does not change a decision....Well, I would not define DEUTSCHE KULTUR as very humble and able to recognize MISTAKES in a CANDID and HONEST way. Should we talk about Berlin Airport here?
5) More information on acting FAST and coping with CHANGE can be seen in this video. All foreign workers in Germany find it VERY FUNNY (nur für Ausländer) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OWU6ix0jXG0
6) Finally, I miss a little bit of analysis on how NPP are used in baseload operation while Gas CCPP are fundamental for grid frequency control. For this purpose, unfortunately we do not have a substitute for gas. Food for thought.
Great analysis, I agree 100% that it’s madness to keep nuclear plants shut down and not let the remaining ones operate in a time like this.
Excellent article Thomas, I couldn't agree more. I suggest you give a try to https://www.deepl.com/translator , it is way better than Google Translate (and a glimpse of the future when AI will replace many jobs) ;)
Wonderfully done and following discussion awesome. How about the new technology in nuclear power? Too far away? I'm sending this valuable interaction widely. Please keep the discussion going.
Thank you for your fine work. Here is some more: How will Russia respond to losing the petro income if Germany stops buying? (History shows us that is is very difficult for rational people to deal in a logical manner with irrational people and achieve an acceptable outcome.) And a final query: What conclusions do you draw as a result of the Russian military activity at the Chernobyl disaster site? As usual, we are living in interesting times.