Thursday, June 9, 2011

Germany to close nuclear power plants by 2022

Neckarwestheim nuclear plant in Germany - the country will shut all its nuclear reactors by 2022. Photograph: Michael Probst/AP

So, recently, Germany has decided to phase out nuclear power completely by 2022.

"As expected, the coalition wants to keep the eight oldest of Germany's 17 nuclear reactors permanently shut. Seven were closed temporarily in March, just after the earthquake and tsunami hit Fukushima. One has been off the grid for years.

Another six would be taken offline by 2021, environment minister Norbert Roettgen said early on Monday after late-night talks in the chancellor's office between leaders of the centre-right coalition.

The remaining three reactors, Germany's newest, would stay open until 2022 as a safety buffer to ensure no disruption to power supply, he said."

My thoughts?

While I do understand the fears behind nuclear power-nuclear waste is an issue, and nuclear power plants need to be updated in order to make sure they are safe-I feel that shutting down all nuclear power in Germany-especially if that means cancelling any future plans for other types of nuclear power, is a counterproductive move.

Although the Fukushima incident was large and dangerous, it must be kept in mind that the literal worst case scenario happened-and the facility nearly completely weathered it. The sea wall that was to protect against a tsunami was designed for waves that were 5 meters smaller than the massive 25 meter waves that hit the plants. And it was the tsunami that wreaked much of the havoc on the power plants.

There were many coal and oil plants that were wrecked by the tsunami which leaked poisonous material into the water and land. Yet, the outcry over them has been far more subdued.

Condemning an entire branch of power supply-one that despite its problems, has viable solutions (thorium based power plants, recycling and reuse of nuclear waste, updating all existing plants with modern nuclear security protocols)-is not the way to phase out fossil fuels or phase in renewables. We don't have to necessarily build more nuclear power plants-they're incredibly expensive and take several years to actually come online-but to eliminate existing ones only opens the way up for more fossil fuel usage, as the industries still have quite some power in Germany. Yes, renewables are being touted to fill the gap, but it should have been fossil fuel plants, rather than nuclear power plants, that were being replaced (once again, not instanteously). Rather, nuclear power plants should be made more safe and be more thoroughly scrutinized, but still play their role in power generation (among other things, such as desalination). It is the dirtiest of fossil fuel plants-coal-that needs to be examined first, and needs to be replaced first.


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