Climate Change

Germany’s Phaseout Problem / As Nuclear Debate Restarts, Minister Calls For ‘Real Solutions’

By David Dalton
5 June 2019

As Nuclear Debate Restarts, Minister Calls For ‘Real Solutions’
Brokdorf is one of seven remaining nuclear plants in Germany. Photo PreussenElektra.
German foreign minister Heiko Maas called yesterday for “real solutions” that would mitigate the security risks of climate change, including involving the UN’s Security Council more.

His “call for action” came in the wake of comments from several German industrialists arguing that the government’s decision to phase out nuclear power, taken after the March 2011 Fukushima-Daiichi accident in Japan, was a mistake.

In his opening speech at a climate security conference, Mr Maas said climate change is acting as a catalyst all over the world for drought, crop failures, floods, conflicts over land use, new migration flows. “All efforts must now focus on the fight against climate change – even the UN Security Council, which normally deals with armed conflicts, needs to get involved,” he said.

Mr Maas said: “Sharpening the UN’s response to climate change is a top priority for Germany during its two-year stint as a non-permanent member of the [UN] Security Council, which began this year.”

Deutsche Welle said a three-point German action plan outlines goals for the UN to be “as proactive as possible” in preventing climate-related conflicts and to pilot efforts to incorporate climate change into foreign policy across the board.

After the Fukushima-Daiichi accident Germany decided to shut down the country’s nuclear fleet by 2022. There are seven nuclear plants in commercial operation in Germany, down from 17 in 2011. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, 29 units have been permanently shut down.

If we’re really serious about climate protection, the nuclear power plants should run for longer 

Last week VW Group chairman Herbert Diess stepped into the debate over nuclear and climate change, saying: “If we’re really serious about climate protection, the nuclear power plants should run for longer.”

Closing Germany’s last coal-fired power plant in 2038 – as decided in January by a government-appointed commission – is “far too late,” Mr Diess said. We “should have quit coal first and then nuclear.”

Wolfgang Reitzle, the chairman of car parts supplier Continental AG, has also spoken out in favour of extending the lifespan of Germany’s nuclear plants. Fastening products billionaire Reinhold Wuerth told Bild on Tuesday that the speed of the nuclear exit was “a mistake” and a comeback of nuclear should be “an option.”

Last month German power companies warned of a potential gap between conventional electricity capacity and demand by 2023 due to the phasing out of nuclear energy and coal.

Bloomberg reported yesterday that solar and wind installations have slowed lately in Germany because of regulatory changes and local opposition. Coal and lignite still make up “a frightening” 35% of Germany’s electricity mix. “Hence the country is a long way from reaching its climate goals,” Bloomberg said.

The International Energy Agency warned last week that if advanced economies continue to turn their backs on nuclear power and partly fill the gap with fossil fuels, they risk billions of tonnes of additional carbon dioxide emissions. Nuclear provides about 10% of global electricity generation, but the IEA said two-thirds of that could be lost by 2040 as reactors age and wholesale electricity prices fall.

The agency wants instead to keep existing nuclear plants operating for as long as possible and it says the capital investments required to achieve that can be competitive when compared to other new clean energy sources. Electricity markets would, however, need to be redesigned to recognize nuclear’s contribution to environmental and energy security.

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