Nuclear or coal? – The German Greens have chosen coal

Spiegel Online is reporting (translation here) that Germany is planning to back away from its 2020 climate target of 40% emissions reduction, because of a continued reliance on coal to run the German economy as a result of the nuclear phase-out known as the ‘Energiewende’.

In fairness, Spiegel has long been pretty sceptical on the Energiewende – but for good reason. It really is pretty much impossible for Germany to exit the two main sources of baseload electricity generation, coal and nuclear, at the same time. Faced with a choice, so-called ‘green’ Germany appears to be prepared to sacrifice its climate targets on the altar of its anti-nuclear ideology. I had expected a couple more years to pass before this became glaringly obvious to everyone except the most blinkered anti-nuke campaigners, but it seems to be happening earlier than I’d thought.

Take for example this widely-leaked letter from Germany’s energy minister Sigmar Gabriel to the Swedish prime minister, pleading with him not to withdraw investments from Vattenfall’s open-cast coal mines at Welzow-Sud II and Nochten II. Here’s a pretty photo of the latter:

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The letter (which I’m assuming is genuine – now confirmed, see note at the end) really does include some tasty morsels, especially the very explicit acknowledgement that when faced with the choice between coal and nuclear, Germany is choosing coal. Here’s my favourite passage:

As you know, Germany has decided to phase out nuclear energy by 2022. We believe that this is a necessary step, and this decision is backed by the vast majority of the German population.

Phasing out nuclear energy is a real challenge even for a highly industrialised, energy-intensive country like Germany. But we believe we will be able to master this challenge.

However, we also strongly believe that we cannot simultaneously quit nuclear energy and coal-based power generation.

(Emphasis added, to make the blindingly obvious even clearer.)

The German Greens, who are anti-nuclear to the core of their political marrow, would like not to have to acknowledge this outright contradiction between their concern for climate change and their opposition to nuclear. Cue the recent strong words from the Green Party accusing the federal government of “trickery” and demanding a date for a coal phase-out.

The German Greens must know that the latter is impossible if Germany is to retain a strong manufacturing sector and a functioning electricity grid. It is simply not possible for intermittent solar and wind, which can generate close to zero electricity for days at a time even when average production is rising, to run a modern high-energy economy alone. So the coal must stay, and the climate targets must go.

This is what happens when ideology hits reality. And ironically the German federal government is being criticised by the Greens for implementing the very same impossible policies that the Greens have always demanded since they first joined the SPD coalition back in 2000 – a complete phase-out of nuclear power and its replacement by ‘renewable’ sources (including, by the way, highly environmentally destructive biomass burning on a very large scale).

I recently did a debate on BBC radio (full audio here) with Hans-Josef Fell, energy spokesman for the German Greens, who takes credit for having written the feed-in tariff laws (known as the EEG) that have driven the Energiewende. I repeatedly demanded to know why, if the Greens were so concerned about climate change, they did not ask for a coal phase-out before that of nuclear. Fell was incensed and kept returning to Chernobyl as justification (“Look to the people who have lost their homelands” [from nuclear accidents]) – I did not feel that the actual climate issue held much interest for him.

Unfortunately, the Green anti-nuclear ideology has become so pervasive in Germany (I have countless frightening anecdotes about this from friends who have dared raise the subject in polite conversation in Germany) that there is little prospect of a policy reversal. So although Sigmar Gabriel is for now denying that Germany is about to scrap its unilateral climate targets (it will still be bound by EU targets of course) my guess is that this is a kite-flying exercise, and that the 40% cut by 2020 will indeed be dropped. This really seems unavoidable given that meeting the target now requires a close to arithmetically impossible cut in annual emissions, as Janne Korhohen pointed out to me on Twitter:

So when climate policy-makers gather in Lima this year, and in Paris next, all eyes will be on the climate laggards who are still addicted to fossil fuels even when the US and China have announced firm plans for serious climate targets. That list of climate laggards will now include Germany, thanks to none other than the German Green Party.

The Greens are being hung by their own petard, and they don’t like it. Neither will the climate.

 


 

I have received an email from Johanna Alskog, a reporter at the Swedish news site Altinget. She tells me that the letter is indeed considered genuine by the prime minister’s office. She obtained it from the PM’s office under freedom of information – actually by mistake as she was looking for something else!

Johanna Alskog has written about this here (Swedish).

56 comments

  1. Clyde Davies says:

    There is a third way through all of this, of course, which would appeal to many Greens. It’s that we virtually give up electricity and go back to living a pre-Industrial lifestyle, becoming subsistence farmers, spending all day on our smallholdings growing all our own food (vegan of course) , unable to read except during the hours of daylight, and God forbid should we wish to drive anywhere.

    But of course we’ll make an exception for use of washing machines, won’t we?

  2. Mark,

    A second issue worth drawing attention to is that Gabriel was saying exactly the same thing in the late 2000s.

    He makes this clear when James Hansen talked to him. Hansen met him, and Gabriel firmly stated that Germany could not move away from coal and nuclear at the same time.

    http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=zB7VvLoeLD4C&pg=PT118&lpg=PT118&dq=Sigmar+Gabriel+new+coal+plants&source=bl&ots=2Ko94296oz&sig=-7AXykDmJ2GJVvyZ8rAG9yoW8Cg&hl=en&sa=X&ei=oYHYUofoNs2RhQejhYDIBw&ved=0CLUBEOgBMBE#v=onepage&q=Sigmar%20Gabriel%20new%20coal%20plants&f=false

    • Bas says:

      Of course.
      He has to follow the priorities of the Energiewende (my post below summarizes them). He cannot change those priorities himself.

      Such a fundamental change will start a long, intensive and elaborate discussion under German scientists and the public.
      Remember that it took ~10-20 years of hot discussions by the German population and ~€200mln of consultancy studies, before the 50years Energiewende scenario was accepted in 2000.

      Realize also that the German public knows a lot more about the damage Chernobyl radiation caused than UK public.
      Further that they are more conscious about the waste problem. The Germans stored waste in a stable salt mine, 600m below surface. However the 600m deep underground network collapsed partially due to the heat of the waste, and the waste started to leak. Predictions are that radio-active material will reach surface groundwater. So they have to take it out.
      The €100billion Sellafield waste problem is small compared to that.

      So no chance they downgrade their first priority (all nuclear out).

      Austria being closer to Chernobyl and having more ties to people living in the surroundings of Chernobyl, even installed a law that forbids the import or transit of any nuclear generated electricity.

    • Tweenk says:

      @Bas
      “Realize also that the German public knows a lot more about the damage Chernobyl radiation caused than UK public.”

      Chernobyl radiation did not cause any damage outside of the (former) USSR. The impact in Europe was nonexistent, because the additional dose from Chernobyl was orders of magnitude lower than the variations in natural background radiation. However, the Greens have invested tremendous effort into anti-nuclear propaganda, which was practicaly uncontested by the authorities, and its effect was compounded by silly actions by radiation protection authorities. For example, decreeing that some wild boar cannot be eaten because it has above 300 Bq/kg of cesium, even though you would have to eat basically nothing but such boar to exceed 1 mSv, which is 100x lower than the dose at which no health effects are observed.

      “Further that they are more conscious about the waste problem. The Germans stored waste in a stable salt mine, 600m below surface. However the 600m deep underground network collapsed partially due to the heat of the waste, and the waste started to leak. Predictions are that radio-active material will reach surface groundwater. So they have to take it out.
      The €100billion Sellafield waste problem is small compared to that.”

      1. There are two salt mine repositories in Germany, both were licensed in the 70s and were incorrectly built, allowing water to intrude.
      2. The contain only low and intermediate level waste, not heat generating waste. In particular they do not contain any used fuel.

      “Austria being closer to Chernobyl and having more ties to people living in the surroundings of Chernobyl (…)”

      Austria simply has even more anti-nuclear propaganda than Germany.

    • Bas says:

      @Tweenk,
      Just a few of the many scientific study results publiced in peer reviewed journals that convinced:

      Bavarian study
      In the south some districts got fall-out (range 0.1mSv/a – 0.5mSv/a) and other similar districts didn’t (no rain from the passing radio-active cloud).
      Only the districts that got fall-out suffered a sudden big increase (~30%) in birth defects (Down, serious malformations, etc). The increase was bigger the higher the extra radiation (different results with p<0.0001).

      Since ~1975 all such birth defects were registered in the population registers. So no sampling, all births were involved in the study.
      As the population registers are in the computer it is not difficult to get the raw data and do the math yourself if you are a scientist.
      Until now nobody could show weak points in the study, except a trivial remarks that it is an ecological study. The study is executed by scientists of the responsible official German institute, who do many other studies.

      East Germany
      Sudden increase of ~10% in the facial cleft birth rate in East Germany after Chernobyl.

      As you can see when you read these studies 1mSv/a does harm new born seriously. Two reasons:
      – fetuses have extreme high rate of cell division. At cell division DNA is single stranded so no repair possible. Worse after cell division it takes some time before the repair mechanisms operates in the new cell.

      – damage to the parents DNA come to expression in their babies.
      And that DNA damage occurs already at very low levels as shown at e.g. the Sellafield study and illustrated in this presentation (with many links to scientific studies).
      Sellafield staff that got 10-20mSv radiation in the 3 months before conception got 30% more male than female babies.

  3. Robin Curtis says:

    I just find it utterly extraordinary that a country with the political stability, and technical sophistication of Germany – chose to close its nuclear plants rather than phase them out as they expired. By then they could have pulled off their ambitious conversion to renewables. In the meantime they burn coal, and even worse lignite. Lunacy prevails – planet warms.

    • Bas says:

      Robin,
      They are only closed being >30years old.
      And 30years was the designed operating period. So government avoids to pay compensation to the utilities because of early closures.

      E.g. Grafenrheinfeld (1.3GW) started June 1982, is scheduled to close end of next year.
      The owner (E.on) decided to close earlier. Next spring because it is not profitable to keep it open (whole sale prices in Germany are now ~3.5cnt/KWh).

    • Tweenk says:

      @Bas
      “30years was the designed operating period”
      It was the initial licensing period. There is no fixed design life for nuclear power plants. Many plants in the US are now licensed for 60 years, and some may end up operating for 80 or 100 years.

    • ian says:

      In many ways German culture is more rational than that in the Anglosphere. But there are glaring exceptions. One being this. Another the cavalier attitude to smoking.

  4. Jai Mitchell says:

    “This really seems unavoidable given that meeting the target now requires a close to arithmetically impossible cut in annual emissions”

    when you say this, you are making a significant assumption (with a profound corollary).

    1. That the process going forward will be made within the economic confines of a “free market” or even a “market driven” system.

    which leads inevitably to the following:

    1(a). We will fail to adequately reduce our greenhouse gas emissions on a sufficient scale to prevent a moderate runaway warming that will lead to over 6C temperature increase (above pre-industrial) by 2100.

    ____________

    At this point, the only way our society has a hope to continue through the next 2 generations is to implement a total resource mobilization within a command economy structure. Inherent within this necessary action will be a complete recapture of international wealth currently being held in offshore tax havens and a massive wealth redistribution in the form of a decentralization of energy, food and goods production.

  5. Clyde Davies says:

    “At this point, the only way our society has a hope to continue through the next 2 generations is to implement a total resource mobilization within a command economy structure. Inherent within this necessary action will be a complete recapture of international wealth currently being held in offshore tax havens and a massive wealth redistribution in the form of a decentralization of energy, food and goods production.”

    Good luck with that.

    • Jai Mitchell says:

      Only when we adequately incorporate carbon cycle and frozen soil feedbacks, arctic ice loss rates and sea level rise into our projections of future damage loss estimates will we begin to see the true meaning of
      “irreversible and catastrophic”.

  6. bigcitylib says:

    I think this counts as an official denial:

    The country’s environment minister is adamant that Germany will not relax decarbonisation targets. Today the energy and economics minister dismissed reports the target would be weakened.

    http://www.carbonbrief.org/blog/2014/11/germany-debates-plan-to-save-2020-emissions-reduction-target/

  7. Proteos says:

    Let us set the record straight: the rot-grün coalition followed the 1998 elections for the Bundestag.

    The german government does not need to abandon its unilateral targets. After all, up to the very last moment, one can claim the target can still be reached however unlikely it looks. And this year will certainly cheer up the advocates of the german plan: 2014 is a remarkably warm year in Western Europe and as result, GHG emissions will fall steeply. So hope that the targets can still be reached will still remain.

    And anyway the exit from nuclear in Germany has nothing to do with any climate plan, it is just that no self respecting european politician can back an energy plan that do not claim to avert climate change.

  8. Bas says:

    The priorities of the Energiewende are well-known since 2000 (Der Spiegel knows too):

    1. All nuclear out in 2023.
    Progress; as scheduled. 10 of the 19 NPP’s are out.
    No. 11 will close prematurely next spring, as the 1.3GW plant cannot compete in the present German market.

    2. Democratize electricity generation.
    Progress; >50% of renewable owned by citizens, farmers, small cooperations.
    Note that this target was by far priority no.1 until Chernobyl. Chernobyl did hit Germany much more hard than UK. German citizens also know far more about the fate of people who live more nearby Chernobyl.

    3. 80% renewable in 2050 (=1.5%/a more renewable)
    Progress; few years ahead of schedule.
    The idea is that next generations have also a right on fossil fuels, so they can make useful materials from it (e.g. plastics).
    The same idea also contributes heavily to the anti-nuclear position as the waste and radiation problems are not solved at all. The Germans don’t like the idea that those really expensive problems are inherited by next generations.

    4. Affordable costs. Hence the 50years transition period.
    Shown by the increasing support of the population. From ~55% in 2000 towards ~90% now.

    This is the main reason Gabriel cannot close coal plants prematurely. He would have to pay compensation to the utilities, higher FiT’s & subsidies in order to speed up solar, wind, grid extension, storage.
    And he doesn’t have space for that as Merkel promised last summer that the Energiewende surcharge (~6cnt/KWh) would not rise and go down after ~2023. Merkel would fire him, as she keeps her promises (a rare property of politicians) .

    5. Less GHG; Kyoto target is -20% in 2020 compared to 1990.
    Germany is now at -27%. It set the -40% in 2020 target itself.

    My estimation; they will reach -35% in 2020. Still far better than any other major country. E.g. USA -5%? UK -15%?

    So they reach all targets except the lowest priority intermediate one. With >80% renewable in 2050 they will reduce CO2 due to electricity generation much more (~85%).

    Note that electricity generation is only a minor CO2 contributor.
    Heating (>90% gas), and transport contribute far more.
    And I don’t see that the Germans accept that they can no longer drive at >100miles/hr with nice big cars along their many great highways.

    • Billy says:

      “For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for Nature cannot be fooled.”
      Bas can fool himself, but he hasn’t fooled me. Chernobyl didn’t do anything to Germany at all. Maybe a handful died, but Vattenfall will kill more people on a daily basis. Chernobyl released about 5 EBq or radiation. The nuclear waste stored 600m deep is part of 100 EBq which exists in German soil to this depth. To really understand Chernobyl, you need to educate yourself about natural radiation, and how much difference such events make, bugger all. CO2, that’s where the human race is facing a catastrophe.

    • Bas says:

      @Billy,
      Your reality is different compared to that of most scientists in Germany.
      Considering the many mistakes skeptics made, I’m inclined to believe that the German reality is more future proof.

      Chernobyl: Consequences in Germany
      This solid study shows highly increased rates of serious handicapped babies.
      This study shows increased rates of cleft lips.
      This study shows increase of perinatal deaths
      etc.

      Fossil fuel
      We should move a.s.a.p. towards 100% renewable.
      Following Denmark (electricity now ~35% by wind, ~15% other renewable) who will have 100% renewable regarding all energy in 2040-2050.

      It is only allowed to build a house in Denmark if you can show that it will be 100% energy neutral!

      Bicycles have priority at traffic lights in Copenhagen; you press the button at the traffic light and light change to green for your bike within 10 seconds, cars have to wait. Great improvement as the healthy biker now no longer has to inhale the poisonous gas of the passing cars while they wait.
      etc.

      Germany is ~15years behind, NL (my country) far more.

    • rrm23 says:

      Bas, you mentioned the Asse nuclear waste repository earlier. First this contains only low and medium active waste with negligible heat generation.
      Second, for waste repositories in salt mines, it is expected that the cavities slowly collapse under the pressure of the rock above. This intense pressure makes the salt behave like an extremely viscous liquid that encloses the waste and completely suppresses waterflow.

      If you can read German, I would recommend:
      http://www.amazon.co.uk/Das-Märchen-Asse-Hermann-Hinsch

      The only artificial radionuclide that has made its way out of the repository in tiny quantities is tritium. Due to the complete lack of any real danger, the BfS can waste its time to reduce the tritium emissions into another salt mine from 700 times below the legal limit to 3500 times below the legal limit so that the exposure of the most exposed persion is below 0.000003mSv per year (1/30 of a banana-equivalent dose)

      htttp://www.asse.bund.de/EN/3_WhatHappens/OperationOfMine/SalineSolutionsManagement/_node.html

    • Bas says:

      Sorry, for the broken links.
      Below the paragraph corrected:

      Chernobyl: Consequences in Germany
      This solid study shows highly increased rates of serious handicapped babies.
      This study shows increased rates of cleft lips.
      This study shows increase of perinatal deaths
      This study shows the sudden Down syndrome increase in 7 European countries, starting 9months after the Chernobyl radio-active clouds passed…
      etc.

    • Joris van Dorp says:

      Bas is a long-time anti-nuclear serial propaganda poster, for years. His nonsens ‘studies’ have been debunked at AtomicInsights among others, for years. He will continue his anti-science, anti-nuclear crusade, for years. He ignores detailed refutations of his propaganda, but simply moves to another website to copy/paste the same propaganda, somehow ‘forgetting’ that his propaganda was already painstakingly debunked by actual experts, for years.

      Google “Bas Gresnigt nuclear”, or “BasM nuclear” to see some of his activities repeated over, and over, and over,

      …. for years.

      😉

    • Sanne says:

      @rrm23.
      Your assumption regarding Asse: “pressure makes the salt … completely suppresses waterflow.”, has turned out to be wrong.
      Water flow will reach surface after long time.

      Worse, studies found that this will happen at all deep salt layers if there is groundwater.

      So in NL, the ideas changed from salt towards deep clay layers.

  9. marco polo says:

    Of course…there is a third way..
    And that would be for big Gov and big Corp to stop cock blocking innovation! To wit:
    1. NEC (National Electronic Corp: Japan) Proton Polymer Battery: created in 2000: unavailable: 500,000 recharges, half the size as lithium, low cost materials.
    2. SHEP (Stored Hydraulic Energy Propulsion) Also known as the Ilford (the inventor) Pump. Hydraulic driveshaft pump that sets a vehicle in motion, then runs in reverse (brake hp recovery) to slow it down. Tested by Ford in 2002, stellar results: unavailable.
    3. Germany’s Volkswagen: recent: gets 300mpg: BANNED in the US for being ‘too efficient’.
    And the list goes on!

  10. Billy says:

    Bas, what are the links please. I’m just reviewing a study that says thyroid cancer went up 143% in Basra, Irag 2000-2007. When you find the data, thyroid cancer went 7->17, Kidney 11->7, Oral 12->4. It’s just scatter.
    I have a copy of the Chernobyl Forum report, I can find a number of German authors, and I can quote Prof Gerry Thomas who says ”
    Prof GerryThomas says there is “absolutely no evidence” for an increase in birth defects”
    The Chernobyl Forum report is actually a scholarly piece of work with over 150 recognised international authors from many top universities.
    http://www-pub.iaea.org/mtcd/publications/pdf/pub1239_web.pdf
    http://www.who.int/ionizing_radiation/chernobyl/WHO%20Report%20on%20Chernobyl%20Health%20Effects%20July%2006.pdf
    As to most scientists, I’m not aware of any physics professors who are anti-nuclear (Please name one if you can). My own impression is that among researchers with a sound academic profile, the consensus on the need for nuclear power at about 95%, exceeds that for climate change, 90%.
    But I remain highly skeptical that Chernobyl or Fukushima, which actually released only a tiny amount of radiation compared with background, could lead to some mysterious affect that background radiation does not have.
    There’s also something that I think is probably 100% successful in assessing evidence on a topic that’s controversial.That is, after the debate gets heated, one side starts claiming there’s a conspiracy. The flat-earthers complain that there’s a conspiracy, the Holocaust deniers claim there’s a conspiracy, and anti-nuclear people claim there’s a conspiracy. Helen Caldicott “The World Health Organization is now part of the conspiracy and the cover-up. This is the biggest medical conspiracy and cover-up in the history of medicine.” Cindy Folkers “uncovered a deliberate conspiracy on the part of the government and nuclear industry to intentionally poison the public with radioactive food with the goal of making “contaminated food acceptable.” “The main reason for this massive conspiracy being foisted on the public is what is referred to as the Chernobyl Forum, which is a coalition of United Nations related agencies”
    Applying Ockam’s Razor, I have 2 choices. You and Caldicott and Folker are correct, and there’s a massive conspracy involving 8 UN agencies, 150 eminent scientists and the governments of Ukraine, Russia and Belarus. OR, you, Caldicott and Folker are simply wrong, and there’s no conspiracy ad the scientists are simply giving their opinion. I’m sure Sir William would choose the latter.
    But it’s also easy to check a few numbers. The amount of radiation simply isn’t enough to cause massive effects, the amount of depleted Uranium used in Iraq a tiny amount compared with the natural radiation in the soil, and areas with high natural radiation, such as Ramsar in Iraq, do not have an increased incidence of cancer.
    The human body contains 4400 Bq of natural radiation, mainly from K40. DNA is bathed in Potassium Chloride, 5Bq of Strontium when Strontium is 10000 times further from the DNA than Potassium is irrelevant.

    • Sanne says:

      Chernobyl forum was a cover-up of the IAEA who wants more nuclear.
      The 1959 agreement forces the WHO to follow IAEA.
      WHO had to sign, as the atomic powers pay the budget.
      .
      The New York Academy of Sciences publishes a book with a far more accurate overview of the real health damage of Chernobyl. The prominent professors (radiation specialists) who wrote the book, estimate 850,000 death in the period until 2006.

      Low level radiation has a latency of decades before real damage develops, just as with smoking, so one million deaths due to Chernobyl is an underestimation.

      Btw. more sites offer the book; just Google .

    • Billy says:

      It’s a conspiracy baby.
      Patriotism might be the last refuge of a scoundrel, but The Conspiracy is the last refuge of the closed-minded ideologue. The Warren Commission investigated to assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy and concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. If you don’t believe that, then you believe in The Conspiracy. It’s your choice as to whether the CIA, FBI, KGB, Fidel Castro or the mafia were part of the conspiracy. The idea of a Conspiracy in the Kennedy assassination defies Occam’s razor. The simplest explanation is that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. But it’s impossible to disprove The Conspiracy because the evidence has been hidden by the conspirators, and anyone who doesn’t believe that is either “Part of The Conspiracy” or “Sucked in by it”.
      David Irving is a holocaust denier. “The Holocaust is a hoax arising out of a deliberate Jewish conspiracy to advance the interest of Jews at the expense of other peoples.”
      James Inhofe is a Republican senator and climate change denier. “The Greatest Hoax. How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future.”
      And Helen Caldicott is a nuclear science denier “The World Health Organization is now part of the conspiracy and the cover-up. This is the biggest medical conspiracy and cover-up in the history of medicine.”

      Three conspiracy theories, all of equal (zero) merit.

      David Irving, James Inhofe & Helen Caldicott all defy Occam’s Razor. The simplest hypothesis is the best. Which is the simpler, that there is a Conspiracy involving the World Health Organization, 7 other UN agencies, the governments of Russia, Ukraine & Belarus and 150 top international scientists from highly prestigic institutions. or Helen Caldicott is simply wrong? Occam’s Razor would demand that we choose the latter.

      Even though Occam’s Razor, of itself, makes me sure that David Irving, James Inhofe & Helen Caldicott are all wrong,, I do like to fact check. One has to believe that there is a Conspiracy involving the World Health Organisation, 7 other UN agencies, the governments of Russia, Ukraine & Belarus and 150 top international scientists from highly prestigious institutions to cover up the fact that the release from Chernobyl is just a tiny drop compared with background. The facts speak for themselves. As to the Yablokov report, it was commissioned by Greenpeace, funded by Greenpeace, and the translation paid for by Greenpeace.

      A quick check of the nyas.org states “In no sense did Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences or the New York Academy of Sciences commission this work” & “Importantly, the translated volume has not been formally peer‐reviewed by the New York Academy of Sciences or by anyone else” A further review by tthe NYAS states “published by the New York Academy of Sciences concludes that the value of the report is negative, because it has very little scientific merit while being highly misleading to the lay reader.” It also describes the estimate of nearly a million deaths as more in the realm of science fiction than science.

  11. Paul Wick says:

    If you shut down (perfectly good and safe and powerful and clean) nuclear plants you will get an increase in unsafe, dirty, coal (shxtty lignite) plants that kill people by the thousands through pulmonary disease, poison the world’s fisheries with mercury, and destroy the ecosystem through global warming. German “Greens” are fanatic ideologues, not unlike their grandfathers. They are Browns (lignite coal pushers) although perhaps not Brownshirts. Nevertheless, in a few short years, when molten salt reactors are streaming off multiple assembly lines around the world, providing electricity much cheaper than coal, the Germans, including the brown “Greens” will jump on board. Cheap talks loudly. In fact, I wager that the Germans will claim to be the world leaders of the whole thing. Just a hunch.

    • Bas says:

      @Paul,
      MSR operate at ~600°C, at that temperature steel glows red and is forged.

      Experience with High Temperature Reactors show high frequency of expensive interruptions for repair.
      As far as I know, all those intended for electricity production were decommissioned after <6years.

      So how convince an utility for another try??

  12. Good post. It should make some question as to whether most “climate policy”- in Germany and elsewhere- has ever really been about climate at all, but rather a smoke-screen under which to rustle in regressive and extremist misanthropic policies.

  13. Bill Schutt says:

    Sanne. Have you ever read one peer reviewed article? You only need a tiny amount of common sense to check Ukraine death statistics before making a claim. The 850000 is bull shit. (There is another possibility of course – The Conspiracy) Which study is more credible? Chernobyl Forum or TORCH?

    The Chernobyl Forum was established in 2003. It has the support of eight UN agencies, as well as the governments of Ukraine, Russia and Belarus. A report was written and the conclusion was that perhaps 4000 cancer cases were caused by the Chernobyl incident. About 150 recognised experts contributed to the report. One of them, Prof Gerry Thomas of the Imperial College London who says “I was anti-nuclear until I worked on the after effects of the Chernobyl accident – now I am very pro-nuclear as I realise that we have an unwarranted fear of radiation” and goes on to state “we live in a radioactive world, we are superbly adapted to it. There are areas of the world that are exposed to natural background radiation 10+ times higher than the average (same maximal dose as radiation workers receive). These populations do not show an increase in cancer.”

    The European greens didn’t like the Chernobyl Forum report and commission their own. They called this report TORCH. (The Other Report on CHernobyl) It’s apparent that they could not find anyone, anywhere in any university to give them the report they wanted. Eventually a report was written with two authors. The lead author was Dr Ian Fairlie. He has a website and describes himself as an “Independent nuclear scientist”. There are a number of his papers on his site dating back to 1990 and it is quite fair to say they are all anti-nuclear. Some of them seem to relate to Tritium (3H) and I imagine if we had nuclear fusion at the moment, he would be opposed to it. It’s my guess that this “Independent Nuclear Scientist” makes all his income giving anti-nuclear people the answer they want. The other author David Sumner is really quite obscure, he seems to have written one paper with Ian Fairlie and contributed to a few books.

    Which is the more credible? The report authored by over 100 internationally recognised experts and endorsed by eight UN agencies and the governments of the three worst affected countries. This report is also completely consistent with any calculation based on the relatively small changes in the levels of radiation in the environment. Or the report authored by two so-called independent poms commissioned by the European Green Party. This report assumes that 1 Bq of Sr90 or Cs137 causes much greater harm that 4000 Bq of K40 or Rb87

    • Joris van Dorp says:

      Sanne = Bas = anti-nuclear propaganda fingerpuppet troll.

    • Sam Gilman says:

      You may be interested in this revealing quote from Ian Fairlie in a communication with a vehemently anti-nuclear Tokyo-based journalist. The journalist had joined in the comments to an article he had written, where I had challenged him, amongst many things, on his reliance on Fairlie’s work. I had asserted that Fairlie was, despite his prominence in certain anti-nuclear circles, scientifically obscure and that (afaik) no one in the field took the TORCH report seriously as a scientific work:

      “On your specific criticism of [Fairlie] he replies as follows: “The fact that our report did not get critical reviews was a surprise for David Sumner and I: we’d been expecting hostile comments. The absence of them means the opposite of what this idiot [ie me, Sam Gilman] is saying. ie the people who write scientific articles are mainly inclined to be pro nuke and their silence means we were broadly correct.” ”

      http://www.japantimes.co.jp/community/2014/03/10/issues/stakes-high-as-ailing-u-s-navy-sailors-take-on-tepco-over-fukushima-fallout/#comment-1284423896

      That is, according to this journalist, Dr Fairlie believes there is a conspiracy of silence among thousands of scientists about just how good Dr Fairlie’s work is. It’s an “interesting” defence, to say the least.

    • Sanne says:

      Never saw this TORCH report. Can you show a link?

  14. Professor José Rubens Maiorino says:

    II am concerned about the prejudice of Germany against the Nuclear Generation. The Germans always built excellent reactors and safe have as an example the reactor built in Brazil. Gernobyl was an anomaly because a politically closed system and a project incompatible with the safety standards of reactors built by the Germans themselves. Any energy expert knows that it is impossible to be at the base of the electrical system renewable sources such as solar and wind, especially in countries such as Germany, with low incidence of light, and with a high population density, remembering that these sources occupy huge areas and subjected to seasonability. Now the Germans realize this fact, and appeal to fossil fuels such as coal, which will be much more harmful to people and the environment, as recognized by the IPCC.

    • Sanne says:

      @José,
      Yes, German scientists built excellent safe reactors. But other German scientists:

      – researched the effects on people living around those reactors and associated nuclear facilities. Such as regarding the quality of their DNA, as well as the effects of small amounts of extra radiation on fetuses.

      – studied big plane flying into a reactor dome, etc. (EU stress test considered only a small sport plane).
      At Chernobyl the radio-active clouds went to uninhabited north, at Fukushima 99% to the ocean. But in Germany they pass major cities. The small possibility that such city would become part of an exclusion zone, contributed also to present near 90% support for the Energiewende.

      Another factor is the unsolved nuclear waste problem. They store it in Gorleben at the surface, as storage in deep salt mines became a failure as well as fast breeders.

    • Bas says:

      The Germans experience(d) the consequences of Chernobyl.

      They realize that their own nuclear plants could get similar accident (with e.g. a big plane flying into it), and judged the consequences unacceptable in their dense populated country.

    • Tweenk says:

      @Bas
      1. Germans did not experience any consequences from Chernobyl, though their Green party did invest tremendous amounts of effort to convince the public otherwise.
      2. A plane flying into a nuclear power plant would not cause a radioactive release, because it would not penetrate the containment.

    • Bas says:

      @Tweenk,
      Please refer to my response to you that I gave today near the top of this thread (may be delayed as it is moderated).

  15. Finnmark says:

    Let’s share some good news for a change: the new 6th Finnish reactor is now as official as it can get, with the Parliament deciding to accept the building with a clear majority of the Fennovoima project in Hanhikivi, Pyhäjoki, Finland today 5th Dec 2014.

    The plant will now be of the Russian VVER-1200/AES2006 design, and this reactor type change necessitated another round of voting as the VVER-1200 and Rostatom were not on the list of reactors initially approved during the first acceptance procedure.

    http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/C-Fortum-ready-to-take-minority-stake-in-Fennovoima-nuclear-project-02121401.html

    http://rt.com/business/211867-finnish-russian-nuclear-plant/

  16. Mark Pawelek says:

    These are Germany’s emissions reductions according to Carbon Brief: http://www.carbonbrief.org/blog/2014/11/germany-debates-plan-to-save-2020-emissions-reduction-target/

    Achieved 1990 – 2000: 16.3%
    Achieved 2001 – 2010: 8.1%
    Required 2011 – 2020: 15.6%

    There’s been no progress since 2011, so they still need a reduction of 15.6% on 1990 levels. It’s equivalent to a 22% reduction on current 2014 levels by 2020. After 2020, the rest of their nuclear plant is due to close by 2022, costing them 5% of the reductions they made! They have no chance of making that 2020 target. If, by some miracle, they made it – they had no chance of maintaining it.

    • Bas says:

      In 2011-2013 German climate didn’t cooperate. Colder, so more heating, etc.

      But this year they got nice weather, so they will have a great reduction this year.

    • Bas says:

      Though you were more sure (“They have no chance…”), I estimated that the Germans would fall ~5% short of their self imposed target of -40% CO2 in 2020 (twice the Kyoto target of -20% which no bigger country will reach).

      But Merkel is an exceptional politician. She usually reach her targets. Reuters reports that she introduced a new package of actions in order to reach the 40% CO2 reduction target.

      The premature closing of the last 6 NPP’s (=8.5GW) can spoil her plan.
      Utilities may follow Grafenrheinfeld as those NPP’s (will) make losses (soon) in the competitive German market with decreasing whole sale prices in next years as shown by the Futures at the Leipzig spot market.
      It seems that their operating costs are too high (no capital costs anymore).

  17. Mark Pawelek says:

    Today’s news claims diesel fumes are killing 29,000 Brits each year. Demands are made that no new schools should be built near major roads and for existing schools to have air filtration fitted. From the perspective of health and climate change, the priorities should be to reduce coal first, then diesel, petrol next. The last fossil fuel we should try to eliminate is natural gas; because it is the safest with the lowest emissions of any carbon-based fuel. Meanwhile British greens continue to campaigning against fracking (for natural gas). As if that April 2014 report (2nd link) had never been written.

    Air pollution ‘causing deadly public health crisis’: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-30349398

    Estimates of mortality in local authority areas associated with air pollution: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/estimates-of-mortality-in-local-authority-areas-associated-with-air-pollution

    • Bas says:

      Diesel cars are more ‘deadly’ than coal plants here. Coal plants have to adhere to very strong emission rules here (NL, Germany).

      So priority should be diesel and then petrol cars out, after that coal plants.

    • Bas says:

      In addition to cars using diesel or petrol:
      A recent study in the Netherlands (today in the news at the radio) found that life expectancy of people living near the busy airport Schiphol (Amsterdam), is 18month less due to the Particulate Matter (PM) coming down from the planes.

      A shame that those planes do not pay tax for the kerosene they burn, harming our health. At least car fuel is taxed, though not enough to cover the health risks, etc.

  18. Carl Erik Magnusson says:

    The German government decision to stop nuclear power by 2022 was probably an interpretation of public opinion after Fukushima. Classical Roman wisdom says: “Nihil est incertius vulgo”. Questions arise: Is following public opinion at any moment a democratic imperative? In this case a goal conflict is evident: What way to support a highly energy dependent economy with stable and enough power? The German choice tends towards coal in its worst form: lignite, supported by mighty coal unions: It is convenient to ask the Swedish state company Vattenfall not to cancel its lignite expansion plans: The Swedish prime minister has a union background. Besides, having a foreign scapegoat is convenient.
    Is there a firm scientific reason for the “Energiwende”? The comments here concern Chernobyl and Fukushima. In fact radiation downfall from Chernobyl appeared outside former Soviet Union; in fact the first report came from the Swedish nuclear plant Forsmark after incoming shift workers were detected to be contaminated and were refused to enter the plant. However, UN reports show less than 50 casualties, most of them immediate cleanup workers. Besides, about 5000 cases of treatable thyroid cancer are reported, most of them in the Ukraine and Belarus. Future cancer onset signal due to Fukushima and Chernobyl will not be detectable in the noise. Also substantial populations have lived for generations in sites with tenfold normal background radiation levels from rocks or at high latitudes with no bad health effects at all.
    As to the storage of waste: Ashes from coal burning is more or less radioactive: Its energy contents due to uranium may be bigger than the coal combustion energy. Besides, ash is inorganic with substantial metal contents, which can be critical to drinking water resources. How well documented is the environmental impact of the carbon combustion cycle compared to that of the nuclear cycle?
    Philosophically, it is interesting to see attitude differences between the Germanic and Latin world: Can the Germanic view be derived from nature romanticism and Rousseau? He had negative view on science and its influence on mankind (cf for example his texts on the fruit of knowledge). On the opposite side Voltaire had the rational view. Can Germany and France be taken as such opposite examples?

    • Sanne says:

      Carl,
      The German Energiewende movement started in the seventies. After 1986 all nuclear out became first priority. In the nineties many debate and study reports how to do that.

      In 2000 the Energiewende scenario covering all nuclear out in 2022 and 80% renewable in 2050, was accepted.

      Merkel tried to postpone all nuclear out 10yrs in autumn 2010, but returned to the original target in spring 2011.

      The Chernobyl UN report you refer to is a cover-up operation of IAEA, whose target is to promote nuclear.
      The real damage is shown by the book published by the New York Academy of Sciences; 935,000 deaths until 2006.

    • Sanne says:

      Carl,
      You ask: “Is there a firm scientific reason for the “Energiewende?”
      Let’s look at the target priority list of the Energiewende:

      1. All nuclear out. before 2023. Now 10 of the 19 NPP’s closed.
      – NPP’s create substantial DNA damage, measured at people living around up to ~15miles away.
      – Accidents, even >1000miles away, create substantial increase babies with serious deficiencies, such as Down, etc.
      – etc.

      2. Democratize electricity.
      So people have real influence on their environment. Important for the development of people in-dependency.
      Roughly 50% of renewable are owned by citizens, farmers, etc.
      Renewable generate ~27% of electricity in Germany now (increase ~1.5%/a)

      3. 80% of all electricity generated by renewable in 2050
      Originally because the stock of fossil fuel is restricted (club of Rome report).
      Now at 27%. With their usual annual increase of 1.5% they will reach that target.

      4. Affordable costs
      Otherwise the Energiewende will loose support of the population (now ~85%). Av. German household pays lower % of its income for electricity than av. USA household.

      5. Less CO2 / GHG
      They are now 27% below the Kyoto 1990 level. That is better than any major country will reach in 2020 (Kyoto 2020 target: 20% less).

      Btw.
      The radio-activity of coal ash is very insignificant compared to the radio-activity that fast neutrons cause outside the NPP’s causing DNA damage (sheet 31).

  19. Marcelo Pacheco says:

    Chernobyl should not be used as reference for anything. It will never happen again. It was a result of the utter lack of respect for human life the former USSR had. Even ultra old reactors built a decade before Chernobyl can’t explode like that. Anyhow, people are living very close to the reactor today, there is no thousand year wasteland that was predicted again and again.
    I’m also sure that Fukushima will also be proven to be at least 4 orders of magnitude less serious than the same groups that quote Chernobyl as the reason for the German denuclear plan.
    We need to utterly reject all unscientific views on nuclear power. Nuclear is no panacea, but its 5 orders of magnitude safer than coal and 2 orders of magnitude safer even than natural gas (remember Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico and all the loss of livelyhood caused by it).
    The real disaster was the Tohoku earthquake and not the Fukushima meltdown. The reactors almost escaped the meltdown. Let’s think like engineers and scientists and make nuclear better.
    PS: I am pro nuclear and pro wind, just not at the expense of killing nuclear and deindustrializing the developed world (and mass exporting jobs to China).

    • Bas says:

      … sure that Fukushima will … be at least 4 orders of magnitude less serious than … Chernobyl …
      WHO estimates up to 7% more cancer for children near Fukushima during their lifetime despite the speedy evacuation. It implies up to ~700 death.

      So following your estimation Chernobyl will have 7million death. Which may be true if you follow the book published at the site of the New York Academy of Sciences. As that book states 985,000 death until 2005, and we now that the damage of low extra radiation show mostly after ~20-60yrs (e.g. RERF studies).

      However, I estimate that the book is somewhat pessimistic, and ended at an estimation of ~1 million deaths (most still have to come).

    • Marcelo Pacheco says:

      Here in my home state of Espirito Santo, in Brazil there was just a serious accident aboard a oil platform ship. So far 6 dead, another 5 in critical condition. This happens all over the world, all the time. Nuclear doesn’t kill like that.
      Are the deaths of coal, oil and natural gas workers less important than civilian nuclear deaths ? Remember deepwater horizon ? Remember all the coal mine deaths (specially the ones that never make it into the media radar) ?
      700 cancer cases or 700 cancer deaths ?
      Even if those are actual deaths, still tiny compare to the ongoing worldwide coal disaster. Coal every year is a thousand times worse than you can claim will be the absolute worst case Fukushima scenario, but if you think realistically, coal is at least 10000 times worse.
      Again you guys can face the fact that nuclear needs an exceptionally serious accident to be of any harm to people, while coal is deadly every day, and natural gas+oil kills tens of thousands every year too.
      I wish EnergieWende could actually be the formulae to apply to the rest of the world. It isn’t. It too expensive, and it has no hope of generating even half of Germany’s overrall energy needs (electricity, transportation and heating) from renewables alone.
      Why don’t you focus on making BMW, Mercedes make actual compelling EVs instead of crappy plug in hybrids ? The situation is so pathetic, BMW has stated not to use the i3 as a frame of reference of what BMW can do, they are publicly admitting it’s just another compliance car for those willing to make a sacrifice in using one. What the world needs is at least 3 serious competitors to Tesla Motors. VW and Audi have been utterly anti EV (they make a lot of claims, but do nothing).
      Anyhow, energiewende way too expensive. You will not succeed if the result is Germany with a clean grid, but the most expensive electricity in Europe ! Nuclear cheaper than Energiewende:
      http://thebreakthrough.org/index.php/programs/energy-and-climate/cost-of-german-solar-is-four-times-finnish-nuclear

    • Bas says:

      Are the deaths of coal, oil and natural gas workers less important than civilian nuclear deaths?
      Yes. They chose the job, accepted the risk and got compensation. Just as car drivers.
      The civilian deaths due to nuclear radiation did not choose neither did they get any compensation. Neither could they escape the risk.

      We don’t talk about a few hundred nuclear deaths but about a million. Just read the book at the site of the New York Academy of Sciences, and realize that most Chernobyl deaths still have to occur due to the 20-60yrs latency with radiation as shown by the RERF studies (just as with smoking).

      You should also consider the substantial DNA damage that even normal operating nuclear facilities cause in people living up to 40km around nuclear facilities due to fast neutrons that collide with Ar in the air causing the radio-active Ar41 gas.
      That affects the quality of next generations!

      Your comparison should be against renewable, wind+solar+storage, as those will replace fossil fuels (though gradually, still much faster than nuclear can).

      Especially since wind+solar+storage nowadays produce electricity for half of the price that new nuclear require (compare Hinkley or Vogtle and calculate the major subsidies too)! And the costs of those renewable are decreasing further with 3-10%/a, while new nuclear increases in price.

  20. ian says:

    Well done Mark on challenging Herr Fell. The German phase out of nuclear and ramp up of coal is one of the biggest blunders going in the world these days. It’s insane.

    • Bas says:

      Ian,
      No ramp up of coal at all!
      Germany decreased the contribution of coal since the start of their renewable policy in 1990. The decrease is substantial and continued with the Energiewende which started in 2001.

      Electricity generation (TWh/a):
      year Total Coal
      1990 550 57% (312 TWh)
      2001 586 50% (293 TWh)
      2014 610 43% (263 TWh)

      *) Of course the downward trend show some fluctuations, primarily due to weather, economy, etc.
      The ‘coal’ electricity of 2014 is mostly generated by new 25% more efficient power plants (45% vs. 33% old). So CO2 decrease is much more!

      Germany still plans to reach their own 40% reduction target in 2020 as shown by Merkel’s recent package of actions!
      Compare that with USA whose CO2 emissions will be above the 1990 Kyoto level!
      Or with UK, France, etc. who all won’t reach the Kyoto 20% reduction target!

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