So Germany have announced that they will shut down all nuclear power plants in the country by 2022. Now at first most would probably think that this is a great initiative; there have been many protests in Germany (since the recent events in Japan) calling for this move; and I know from my conversations with many Northern Europeans, that anything to reduce the use of Nuclear Power is seen as a positive step in the right direction..
Now I don’t think Nuclear Power is a great source of energy; nor do I think it is the worst. There is some risk involved with it, however, over recent decades, safety standards have dramatically increased in the industry and no doubt it could be strongly argued that the environmental and health effects of nuclear power are far less than the coal/gas/oil (fossil fuels) industry…
I do believe we need to find a way to phase out Nuclear Power, however, I think our focus for now should be on first phasing out Fossil Fuel Power.. The sad truth is that Nuclear Power has very low emissions (only generated during the transport and processing of uranium fuel) compared with that of coal, oil, etc.. If every country with nuclear facilities shut down these power plants, this will only increase our dependency on fossil fuels and accelerate the effects of climate change..
As a civil engineer, I believe in Nuclear Power as a valid source of energy that should be used in the short-term to bridge the gap between fossil fuels and 100% renewable energy. We need a energy source that can provide this base load of power whilst we innovate/develop renewable energy and increase it’s capacity to generate base load electricity.
Ironically, although green groups may be celebrating this move as a win, it could actually be a loss for the environment in the long-term depending on what energy source is used to replace it (ironically, Germany may just purchase more electricity from the Nuclear Power Plants in France; reducing another major countries ability to transition to renewable energy).
Will Germany be able to transition to renewable energy sources to replace nuclear by 2022? I would like to think so, but even their neighbours, such as Sweden, are very sceptical. Sweden’s own environment minister (in a conservative government) has said that this decision is “unrealistic” (see reference link #3).
I understand the genuine concerns of people after the events of Japan, but we need to be realistic. The country was hit by one of the worst earthquakes in recorded history, which was shortly followed my an enormous tsunami and a number of significant aftershocks.. After this natural disaster and the earthquake in Christchurch, earlier this year, it is clear how powerful these forces are.. The fact that the Fukushima Nuclear Power plant withstood these forces to such an extent, is a tribute to their designers and to the Japanese.. Sure it is not a perfect result, there have been some radiation leaks, but this is nothing like Chernobyl, there was no massive explosion that sent a radiation cloud out over Asia – it was the ‘best’ outcome in a seriously tragic situation. Again, it is a tribute to the Japanese, as I highly doubt that any other country on the planet would have been able to deal with this event as well as they did..
Now, sure I wouldn’t want a Nuclear Power Plant behind my house, I would want regulations and safety checks in place if Nuclear was introduced in Australia (highly doubt it ever will be due to the opposition), but I think we are treading on thin ice already in trying to deal with climate change, and if other countries start to follow Germany’s decision, we risk jeopardising our fight against global warming and ultimately our fight for the future of tomorrows generation…
I sincerely hope that Germany turn to renewable energy and further reduce their dependency on fossil fuels, but again, unfortunately I am highly sceptical that they will be able to, given this commitment to phase out Nuclear..
Another point that needs to be made is that we need to remember, Europe, like many places on planet, has distinct seasons and in the Winter, renewable energy production is significantly reduced… What will these nations use during the winter? Without Nuclear, the obvious result is an increase in fossil fuel usage…
I know that a lot of my colleagues and friends will disagree with my opinion here, but I think it’s important that we look at the bigger picture on this one.. Let’s put in place the necessary safeguards to ensure we can continue to use Nuclear Power until we have developed Renewable Energy to a point that it can provide base load electricity..
A more appropriate debate should be: Whether Nuclear Power should be constructed close to coastlines and/or in earthquake prone regions??