Germany’s ‘Energiewende’ – the story so far

Germany’s ‘Energiewende’ – or ‘energy transition’ – has been getting steadily more controversial. Hyperbole has been flying from all sides: enthusiastic greens have been celebrating Germany’s supposed success in generating half its electricity from solar power (not true) whilst nuclear advocates have been bemoaning the fact that the nuclear phase-out has led to soaring CO2 emissions (also not true).

The latest figures for electricity production have just been published by the Federal Association of Energy and Water Industries. Here they are, at a glance:


The relevant supporting documents are on the BDEW website in German, here and here (PDF).

Here are the main takeaways for me.

Solar PV

Solar continued its enormous growth rate between 2011 and 2012. Production rose from 19.3TWh (terawatt-hours) in 2011 to 27.6TWh in 2012, representing an impressive increase of 47.7%. In terms of total electricity generation, solar’s percentage rose from 3.2% in 2011 to 4.6% in 2012. This is an extraordinary achievement by any standard.

Wind power

Wind production actually fell slightly from 2011 to 2012, by 7.9%. Wind generation was 48.8TWh in 2011, and fell to 46TWh in 2012. Looking at the graph in the full report, it seems that December 2011 was particularly windy, whilst December 2012 was much calmer. In total, wind represents 7.3% of German electricity production.

Other renewables

With all the fuss about solar (and to a lesser extent wind) it is easy to forget that biomass and hydro are also important. Biomass combustion for electricity generation is 5.8% of the total, while hydro is 3.3%, and has flatlined for years. With 1% municipal waste this brings the total renewables production up to 21.9%.


Despite the furore of the dramatic policy reversal post-Fukushima, nuclear still provides more electricity in Germany than wind and solar put together, adding up to 16% in total (down from 17.7% in 2011). Nuclear generated 108TWh in 2011, and this fell to 99TWh in 2012. It will fall further in years to come, and nuclear is due to be phased out completely by 2022.


Germany still uses large amounts of the dirtiest coal, lignite, and its use is rising. Both hard coal and lignite are being burned in larger amounts in Germany, despite its climate emissions targets. In 2011 lignite accounted for 24.6 of German electricity, and this rose to 25.6 in 2012. Hard coal rose from 18.5% to 19.1%. Thus coal accounted for a higher proportion of generation, and CO2 emissions likely have risen as a result.


Because gas prices remain high in Europe relative to coal, gas is being forced out of the electricity market – and with widespread opposition to fracking, there is little prospect of cheapear gas (as in the US) for the forseeable future. It is important to acknowledge that this is not a problem confined to Germany, and is the case in the UK as well, where the proportion of coal in the generation mix has also risen over the last year. The collapse in the carbon price on the ETS has also not helped matters, as it is not nearly enough to make up the difference.

So it is not necessarily fair to blame the increase in German coal burning on the nuclear shutdown – had the relative prices of the competing fossil fuels been different, the lost nuclear generation might instead have been balanced out by gas. Other factors are also at play here, because electricity production varies with the economic situation, the weather and the export-import balance to at least the same extent as the marginal changes in nuclear, coal and gas over the last year. In terms of a nuclear shut-down leading to higher CO2 emissions, Japan is much more of a story than Germany.

The Energiewende and the climate

My conclusion so far is that unfortunately Germany’s ‘renewables revolution’ is at best making no difference to the country’s carbon emissions, and at worst pushing them marginally upwards. Thus, tens (or even hundreds, depending on who you believe) of billions of euros are being spent on expensive solar PV and wind installations for no climatic benefit whatsoever.

Although I have been unable to find clear figures for the changing CO2 intensity of German electricity (if anyone has them, please post in the comments below), nuclear’s fall of 1.7% almost exactly equals the rise in renewables of 1.6% between 2011 and 2012. This means that the dramatic and admirable increase in renewable generation in Germany is simply a story of low-carbon baseload from nuclear being replaced by low-carbon intermittent supply from wind and solar (which, incidentally, also raises system costs by making the grid harder to manage due to intermittency).

Thus Germany is squandering its opportunity to meet its climate targets more quickly, easily and reliably because of an irrational public aversion to nuclear power. I have tried to engage Energiewende true believers in a debate about this, but have so far been unable to get any acknowledgement that coal is worse on every score than nuclear – not just in terms of CO2 emissions (obviously) but because coal kills hundreds of Germans every year from straightforward air pollution.

The Energiewende, it is probably fair to say, is not really about the climate at all. It is about getting rid of nuclear power, a singular obsession of the German Greens since their birth in the European anti-nuclear movement 1970s. With Germany the only Western European nation still intent on building a large amount of additional coal generation capacity (10GW according to some reports), this marks a remarkable policy failure for European environmentalism.

Thanks to Gustaf Rosell for the prompt to write this and the German-language links.


  1. Rouget

    And what about the future and the German plans?

    BMU has published a list og German studies. Considering that nuclear power plants will be shut down, what will fill the gap? This is the most important question.

    Answers here:

    The installed GW of power plants in the near future (2030) is especially very informative.

    1. Caroline

      Precisely. We have seen that the loss of nuclear power is mostly filled by combustible fuels, NOT by renewables as Germany would like it to seem. It is suspicious to me that these numbers published in German do not match entirely with those published by the International Energy Agency. These show that combustible fuels rose at least 4.1% from Jan-Oct of 2012 over the same period in 2011. ( scroll to Germany page)

      Also left out of this German report, which can be seem from IEA data, is the amount of imports and exports. We see that a significant increase in renewables production is almost matched by an increase in exports. What might this mean about how useful the renewable production is to the grid?

      As far as CO2, isn’t it funny how this is tough to find? A minimum increase of 4.1% in combustibles through october, especially with increase in coal/lignite/oil with a decrease in gas, means that their carbon emissions have likely increased at least by 5% for the total of 2012 over 2011, and that’s with a good portion of their nuclear still producing (70% or so?). This is more than “marginally upwards”, unfortunately, and will be far greater if they follow through on their plan to remove nuclear entirely.

    2. Anne Wesley

      Here’s an interesting article that might go a long way to explaining why 75% of Germans, apparently, support the shut down of their nuclear power stations:

      “The cost of cleaning up the Sellafield nuclear waste site has reached £67.5 billion with no sign of when the cost will stop rising, according to a report by the Public Accounts Committee.”

      “The National Audit Office said run-down buildings posed “intolerable risks to people and the environment”, and Margaret Hodge MP, chairwoman of the committee, said an enormous legacy of nuclear waste had been allowed to build up at the plant.”

      “Over decades, successive governments have failed to get to grips with this critical problem, to the point where the total lifetime cost of decommissioning the site has now reached £67.5 billion, and there’s no indication of when that cost will stop rising,”

      “Furthermore, now that Cumbria County Council has ruled out West Cumbria as the site of the proposed geological disposal facility, a solution to the problem of long-term storage of the waste is as far away as ever.”

    3. Mark Lynas (Post author)

      Anne – in what way is closing perfectly functional nuclear stations early going to reduce decommissioning costs? Actually it will increase them by reducing the income from which decommissioning can be funded.


    4. Anne Wesley

      Perhaps, but for me it means “PLEASE DON’T OPEN ANY MORE!” Also, doesn’t each power station produce new waste onto the pile every year while it’s functioning which will have to be dealt with somehow by us and countless future generations?

    5. Mark Lynas (Post author)

      But that’s still no argument for closing existing stations early, which was what you initially proposed. And don’t forget, all the new coal pollution is going to destroy the biosphere well before anyone has time to worry about the trivialities of nuclear waste.

      As to the latter, I’ve long argued for full recycling – see my post on the PRISM and associated links.

    6. Leo Smith

      Or any form of fast neutron reactor that can turn waste into fuel and turn it into short loved isotopes.

      Of course is the data that shows that radiation is about 100 times less dangerous than supposed were encapsulated in legislation, we could just dump the stuff in steel containers and bury it for a few million.

      The facts are here:

    7. Leo Smith

      since the best way to get rod of the waste is by burning it as fuel in the next generation of reactors, your comment hardly seems rational.

      Britain’s nuclear fleet is generating around somewhere between £3bn and £6bn worth of electricity every year. And has done so (inflation adjusted) for 40 years or more.

      to build a wind turbine fleet to match that would cost in the region of £25bn (onshore) – £75bn (offshore) and then it would only work when the wind blew – you would still need the gas backup. And would be worn out scrap in ten years.

      Considering the existing fleet of nukes is paid for, £65bn to clean up Sellafield looks like a positive bargain…considering its dealing with other peoples nuclear waste as well, and the residue from a cold war atomic weapons program.

      Remind me of how much we spent in ONE YEAR to bail out banks, that gave us NO value at all?

    8. Anne Wesley

      Leo, the report said “the cost of decommissioning the site has now reached £67.5 billion, and THERE’S NO INDICATION OF WHEN THAT COST WILL STOP RISING.” (my capitals)

      You should quote correctly if you don’t want to sound like a paid propagandist.

    9. Clare Fox

      Anne, I totally agree. I think we should give the German people a lot more credit for being so forward looking and not wanting to put such a dreadful financial and environmental burden on their children, and their children’s children, for thousands of generations purely because we are so greedy for this energy.

    10. Greg Mostly

      Yes, Clare, I live in Germany and the mood here is very positive. There are solar panels going up everywhere, on people’s roofs and on waste ground – like along all the railways, and lots of wind turbines all over the windy, flat northern states and even in the Baltic Sea. And once they’re up the energy is free. It’s all very well-organised and forward-looking. They are far ahead of Britain with the Green technology and the support, and everything here is recycled.

    11. Peter Lang

      I live in Germany and the mood here is very positive. There are solar panels going up everywhere, on people’s roofs and on waste ground – like along all the railways, and lots of wind turbines all over the windy, flat northern states and even in the Baltic Sea. And once they’re up the energy is free. It’s all very well-organised and forward-looking.

      They sure are gullible, eh?

    12. Geoff Russell

      No Greg, you must look at data … See page 111 in Germany is way behind France and about equal to the UK.France has been generating electricity for 80 gm-co2/kWh for 20 years. Germany is stuck at 468 g-co2/kWh.

    13. Leo Smith

      Indeed. the UK is better than Germany in terms of emissions per MWh.

      The actual inconvenient truth is that not only does the on the ground real world data make nonsense of renewable energy as a means of carbon reduction, but there is little rational point in pursuing carbon reduction anyway, when its perfectly clear that China and India have no intention of signing up to a suite of policies that buy them the moral high ground at the expense of directly condemning large sections of their populations to grinding poverty and early death, based on unjustified extrapolation of a model whose core tenets appear to be increasingly resting on very shaky ground indeed.

      What renewable energy does buy is profits for the few, and political power.

      Germany as usual has got itself in the grip of madmen who have sold yet another Grand Vision to its population.

      And we all remember what happened last time.

    14. Greg Mostly

      Actually, I believe that what is happening here in Germany is exactly because the German people are NOT gullible. They do not listen any more to all the claptrap spouted by those who are obviously in the pay of the powerful and wealthy nuclear power companies.

    15. Leo Smith

      I wont comment on someone’s religious beliefs.

      I will stick to commenting on hard scientific and economic facts.

    16. Greg Mostly

      Ever since the Fukushima Disaster the nuclear power companies have been waging a PR war. They have hired bogus scientists to bombard the internet, newspapers and magazines with articles and comments every day, every week. Their goal is to change public opinion with endless propaganda, praising nuclear and vilifying renewable energy. They are not interested in the welfare of society or the environment, they are only interested in making lots of money for their companies and themselves, just like the banks. They are easy to spot: they always try to persuade you that Fukushima (or even Chernobyl) was not really a disaster….

    17. Geoff Russell

      Nobody is paying me Greg. Was Fukushima a disaster? Absolutely, but it wasn’t the reactor failures that caused the problems. It was a totally unnecessary evacuation caused by decades of misinformation. The ant-nuclear movement doesn’t seem to care how much suffering it’s fearmongering creates. The people of Fukushima could have stayed right where they were and rebuilt their tsunami shattered lives, but instead their lives have been shattered for no good reason. It’s outrageous.

    18. Geoff Russell

      I don’t know detail about Sellafield but the Fukushima cleanup is bizarre. I’ll post refs when I’m back home (currently away). But paying to make areas less radioactive than popular Brazilian beaches should be classified as fraud. Japan has raised the annual number of new cases of bowel cancer in Japan by about 80,000 by eating red and processed meat, so why panic about trivial levels of radiation?

    19. Joe Scampy

      You’re right, the clean up is a waste of time because I read somewhere that most of the radioactivity got washed into the sea.

      Actually, that could be where all the bowel cancer comes from because they eat mostly sea food, don’t they?

    20. Geoff Russell

      Fish doesn’t cause bowel cancer and seafood is only 5.6% of Japanese calories(FAO data)

    21. Peter Lang

      Anne Wesley,

      Sitting back and thinking objectively about the Sellafield story, it does seem like a lot of doomsayer hype, wouldn’t you say? No a fatality attributed to it. How does that compare with other industrial accidents and pollution from other industries? Have you done any sort of comparison to get some context for your alarmist claims?

      When numbers like £67.5 billion (~ $100 billion) are quoted, they are meaningless without context. We need to know how this cost compares with the benefits, wouldn’t you agree?

      I provided some context for the Chernobyl and Fukushima accidents in an earlier comment on this thread; perhaps you didn’t read down that far. I’ll repeat it here:

      Examples of context you should provide for the [Chernobyl and Fukushima] accidents are:
      • How many fatalities and what is the total damage costs of nuclear accidents to date
      • Divide this by the amount of electricity generated by nuclear to date to get fatalities and a damage cost per TWh
      • Compare these figures with equivalent figures from other sources of electricity generation (hint: world average fatalities per TWh: nuclear 0.09, coal 60)

      Then provide context by telling us:
      • How many fatalities has nuclear avoided world wide so far (hint: around 2.5 million – rough estimate in my head)
      • What’s the value of that (hint: about $1 trillion – in my head)
      • How much CO2 has been avoided (hint: about 50 Gt CO2)
      • Value: at $10/t CO2 = $500 billion
      • Value of cheaper electricity: around $500 billion
      • Benefits: Higher GDP growth, better health systems, education, infrastructure, reduced population growth rate.

      What is the value of all that? >$3.5 trillion?

      How do the decommissioning and damage costs stack up when put in context with the benefits?

  2. Robin Curtis

    Mark – thanks for the useful summary – in English. Just extraordinary that the Germans are not going to run-out their reactors to full design life – whilst getting on with their renewables. To be burning lignite is incomprehensible. However, I think at a national/industrial level – the Germans have decided to go for broke on all renewable technologies – and will be selling to the world. In the meantime, a) we have no indigenous nuclear designs on the drawing board any more (see DECC announcement today re HSE to make generic assessment of first BWRs to be built in UK) and b) we aren’t manufacturing much else in the renewables sector. UK Balance of Economic impacts from UK energy imports are growing all the time – let alone our current burgeoning coal burn.

  3. Leon Black

    A very rough, back of the envelope calculation suggests a 3.2% increase in CO2 emissions. This is in part due to a 1.3% increase in overall electricity production, but mostly down to, as you say, replacing nuclear with lignite burning.

  4. Proteos

    The price of carbon is very important to switch from coal to gas. With the old coal power plants, there’s nearly 1t/MWh of CO2 emitted, while gas is below 500kg/MWh. So a €20/t of CO2 price adds €10 per MWh, which is big as the average price is around €50/MWh. Thus, the ETS glut has halted the switch for now, it should resume after 2015 with the closure of coal plants (because of the LCP directive). And maybe the glut will fade with the time out of some allowances.

    Your conclusion is true, the Energiewende is just a motto to replace nuclear phase out. Renewable production will just replace nuclear production. Cuts in emissions will come from energy savings and efficiency improvements. Just what is happening with newer coal plants, which emit less for the same output. And politicians will display big smiles while inaugurating a new lignite plant which emits 900kg/MWh instead of 1.2t/MWh, which is still way too high.

  5. Steve

    Great article. I add my frustration with how poorly these really very important numbers are distributed and presented.

    What is needed is straight forward – each year a breakdown of electricity by source and carbon emissions associated with them, for each country, published in similar format, a month or so after the end of the year, in multiple languages and in a single location.

    If such a thing existed, it would save a huge amount of hot air and printers ink from commentators from all sides, more interested in what they want to be true than what is.

  6. Stefan

    Hi Mark,

    I think this post is a nice summary and fairly balanced view on latest energy production figures in Germany. However, I would suggest that even cautious conclusions on the effects of the measures introduced by the “Energiewende” may be too premature.

    The measures introduced by the German government are barely over one year old and this is probably not a sufficient timescale to assess the effects of a major shift in a countries energy strategy. In addition, many of the envisioned measures have not been put in place at all, largely due to internal hackling in the ruling coalition government; the terms that seem to characterize the political process around the “Energiewende” seem to be “crisis meeting” and “restarting the process”.
    In fact, I wouldn’t attribute the rise in solar PV to the “Energiewende” at all – my guess would be that it has to do with a last minute run on investments in solar spurred by expiring subsidies in this area.

    I am aware of your critical take on this issue, but personally hope that positive effects will be visible a few years down the line if measures are put in place that are neither driven by short-term political opportunism nor ideology, but by a professional determination that has both the ecological impacts and economic opportunities of renewables in sight. The latter in particular seems to be something that Europe is losing out on, which may however have significant effects on the former in the long run.

    Best, Stefan

    1. Percy

      Hi Stefan, I don´t know what you mean by saying that it is premature to judge the German Energiewende ,,, just one year after: the Energiewende started more than 10 years ago with respect to both getting out of nuclear power and booting up renewables. Merkel tried to reverse this trend … but then Fukushima happened and the re-introduced the Energiewende.
      Cheers, Percy

  7. Jasper Vis

    For data on the CO2 intensity of the German electricity production until 2011 (with preliminary figures for 2011), see the website of the environment ministry UBA (in German but with clear graphs).

    1. David

      Mark – excellent as always.

      Following on from Jasper, 2010 figures are apparently still ‘provisional’, while 2011 are ‘initial estimates’ according to Google Translate. Guess we have to wait a while to see how accurate they are. With these uncertainties in mind, we can see the bump upwards which took place in 2011 – presumably due mostly to the permanent shutdown of those 8 units. Guess what is surprising to some of us is that it wasn’t greater still.

      Mark, I don’t think that is accurate to suggest equivalency between energiewenders and nuclear advocates in terms of factual hyperbole. Perhaps this is selective memory on my part, but to be honest I haven’t seen many (any?) serious nuclear advocates claiming rapidly rising CO2 emissions in Germany. Would be interested to see some examples and will retract if wrong. In fact, a nuclear industry news service released this report in April 2012

      However, plenty of nuclear advocates have claimed an increase in the use of coal since the shutdown – a point you have made plain here. I think it is disingenuous to blame the market, or perhaps its failure, for this increase. The operating costs of coal and gas are long-established energy facts about which the German government was no doubt well aware. They made their decision irrespective of this and took no steps to avoid the obvious result. Remember that the shutdown decision was supposedly based on the results of their ‘ethics’ commission report. Well, the inverted commas around that particular body are still more than warranted.

      The case was made soon after the initial decision that Germany’s early shutdown and ongoing phaseout would lead to increased CO2 emissions over the long term when compared to alternative policy by analysts at Deutsche Bank While the 370 Megatonne figure (2011 – 2020) is now in the process of being tested, I don’t think there is any doubting the general argument. There is no escaping the conclusion that with its energiewende Germany is currently only running to stand still in terms of power sector CO2 emissions. One can only wonder at how much more would be achieved if they simply saw sense on nuclear. They might even eventually catch up to countries like Sweden and France, which actually have low CO2 power.

    2. ColinG

      The following UBA press release confirms that the emissions from electricity in Germany rose “slightly” in 2011:

      “Although the share of nuclear energy dropped significantly, emissions from electricity production rose only slightly. Less electricity was exported, and more electricity from renewable energies was produced.”

      (The headline announcement is that overall emissions (i.e. not just electricity) dropped by 2% despite the nuclear phase-out; however the detail explains that the general 2% reduction was mainly due to mild weather requiring less fuel for heating.)

  8. Mark Brinkley


    Thanks for an interesting and simple-to-understand exposition. But what I still find puzzling is Germany’s dread fear of nuclear. The Greens may be strong, but they are not part of the ruling coalition. AFAIK, Germany has never experienced a meltdown or a bad leak or significant accident. And it knows how to engineer like no other country in the world.

    I would find the Energiewende far more compelling if they had a roadmap for how they handle all the intermittency issues with wind and solar. I wouldn’t put it past the Germans to get there, but if they want to sell it as a solution to the rest of the world, it would be good to know how they plan to survive off 100% renewables.

    In the absence of such a plan, nuclear looks to me to be a far less risky option.

    1. Joris van Dorp

      Perhaps German national history provides some answers.

      1. As a result of WWII, Germany still has some lingering ‘national shame’, which pushes them to greater acts of self-sacrifice in the pursuit of worthy goals. This allows them to bear greater burdens than others, as evidenced by their continued willingness to sinks billions into the Energywende. In comparison, other countries such as my country (The Netherlands) have not done anything close.

      2. Chernobyl caused “significant” fallout in Germany in 1986. “significant” in the sense that the amount of fallout in Germany was relatively large compared to most other european countries, although the absolute amount of fallout was small, with little if any observable health effects.

      3. The Cold War had Germany right in the line of fire between Russia and the rest of Western Europe. Germans therefore felt even more threatened than others about nuclear weapons. Since the anti-nuclear weapons lobby quickly became tied to the anti-nuclear power lobby, the aversion to nuclear power in Germany was probably greater also, than in other countries.

      However, there are also historical reasons that would explain a(nother) future turnaround versus nuclear energy for Germany. Germany has had one of the worlds foremost nuclear industries and science institutions. This was because Germany has few natural resources (except for their brown coal). And since both WWI and WWII where fought in no small part over access to energy resources, the push for nuclear energy in Germany was originally tied to the need to secure energy resources. This situation has not changed. As Germany starts to run into mounting problems with their ‘energywende’, and as Germans start to realise the huge costs, and the still increasing dependence on Russia for gas (Angela Merkel has already been talking to Putin about doubling Germany’s gas import capacity from that country), Germany *could* very well come to consider nuclear power once again, in the future. Presumably, this will happen (if it does) well before 2022, it’s target date for the full nuclear phaseout.

      Another thing: I want the opportunity to thank Mark Lynas for his work. Mark, I read much of your stuff, and have seen you on online video’s, etc. Very nice. Good luck to you.

    2. Leo Smith

      Good points and I agree 100% BUT my impression of many Germans is that they have a capacity to follow deluded ideals (all the way to Stalingrad last time) way beyond their patent inability to achieve the stated aims.

      So while I think that you are in every sense right, I am not, as we say, holding my breath…

      I think it will take a serious collapse of the grid or the economy before Germany addresses the issues in honest debate.

      Meanwhile Japan has reversed its political party and the pro nuclear people are back in. And Japan doesn’t have any neighbours with gas..they really have no options BUT nuclear. But at least its forced them (and everyone else)to take a good look at the safety issues. Which is no bad thing.

    3. Stefan

      Jee! What kind of debate is that about energy policy: “all the way to Stalingrad”, “self-sacrifice due to national shame”. Did I stumble into the wrong conversation? But just to get some of the facts right …

      The reason that the conservative government of pro-nuclear Dr. Merkel (physicist by training) did “start” the ‘Energiewende’ was popular reaction to Fukushima, which threatened re-election of the conservative federal state government in Baden-Wuerttemberg – a key state and a then conservative heartland (it didn’t work by the way; the elections saw the first Green politician ever to take office as federal state first minister).
      By the way, the reason that popular reaction to Fukushima was so strong was partly because the Merkel government had only a few month earlier ended the nuclear phase out introduced a decade earlier by the Schroeder government. I wouldn’t be suprised to see another swing back if she wins the elections later this year.

      Regarding Chernobyl: fallout was neither small nor insignificant and results are still felt today: wild boar for example are sometimes still (25 years later) found to be above the threshold provided by the food safety agency. Now, I grant that there may be a debate about what threshold is acceptable, but the link to Chernobyl is clear.

      Finally, it is indeed true that emotions about nuclear power are flying high in Germany because of nuclear arms worries in the 80’s and the cold war history which saw Germany in an uncomfortably central place. However, popular reactions are one thing and this is no reason to discredit science, scientist or expert contributions to the debate on nuclear power and the best possible future energy policies. Stalingrad”, “self-sacrifice due to national shame”. Did I stumble into the wrong conversation

    4. Joris van Dorp

      Sure, I can appreciate your point of view, but it remains very peculiar just how anti-nuclear Germans have become. I remember polling figures as high as 80% of the population against nuclear power. That is extreme, and not found in any other country, even in Japan at the height of the Fukushima crisis.

      So, I haven’t seen in your reaction what you think the reason is for this very high figure, if it wasn’t ‘national shame’.

      Incidentally, Schroeder is indeed the originator of the ‘atomausstieg’. It was the first thing his government did when it entered office. Notice that today, after his political career, Schroeder immediately got a cushy job working for … the Russian natural gas industry! He is firmly connected to the cash cow Nordstream project. Coincidence? OI think not. I suspect Schroeder never really cared about nuclear safety or about the environment. What he cared about was landing a nice job after his term (like most politicians), and to get that job he needed to torpedo German’s best-in-class nuclear energy industry. So that is what he did, on the back of pre-existing anti nuclear sentiment in Germany. As natural gas prices start ratcheting upwards in future, as soon as Europe’s crises starts to wane, and as Europe’s natural gas dependence continues to rise, I wonder when the old controversy over Schroeder, Nordstream and the Atomausstieg makes it into the mainstream media again.

      Did you know the energy capacity equivalent of the currently installed Norstream line is about the same as the German nuclear power capacity that they are committed to phasing out? Another coincidence? I wonder …

    5. Joris van Dorp

      On the other thing, I think you are right to suggest controversy over radiation safety limits. For what it’s worth, I spent a long time looking at the issue of radiation protection and risk, and I have ended up siding with the eminent Oxford professor emeritus Wade Allison, who claims that chronic exposure of up to 100 mSv a month (!) is acceptable from a health effects standpoint. This is a far higher limit than currently employed. For example, the exposure of Japanese citizens to radiation from Fukushima never exceeded 100 mSv total, even if they would have simply stayed in their homes and continued eating off the land.

      So if I was not a vegetarian, I would personally have no problem at all munching down on German swine. That is why I maintain that the health effects of Chernobyl outside of the most contaminated inner zones is negligible. And the effects of Fukushima are less than negligible of course.

      Furthermore, I believe that the issue of radiation protection is going to be re-evaluated in the coming years and radiation limits will be increased orders of magnitude as a result, allowing society to make full use of nuclear power at very low cost, in order to win the battle against climate change without destroying the economy, but this may be wishful thinking. After all, there a many powerful interests who will do anything they can to prevent this from happening.

    6. Leo Smith

      I would say that over the last few years since I have become concerned to educate myself about these matters, I can honestly say that from a perspective of more or less neutral ignorance I have, as the actual data was researched and analysed, become

      – more or less totally convinced that renewable energy (apart from hydro) is no solution to anything.
      – more or less convinced that the issues of nuclear power are largely in the imagination of people.
      – more or less convinced that the case for AGW is in fact extremely weak, and is being bolstered for motives of profit and political convenience.
      – more or less convinced that the real problems are being ignored, because the only possible solutions are so politically unacceptable, that no one who wants to stay in politics will open the debate.

      In short the truth is far too inconvenient to be uttered, so we are living in a highly convenient lie. Of which Al Gore’s movie was in fact a prime example.

      Mutatis mutandis, CO2 or not, we have an unholy state of affairs with far too many people with far too high expectations to be met by a diminishing fossil fuel resource.

      Renewable energy cannot supply the energy needs of the population.
      In principle nuclear can for some considerable time – but not without some risk and some cost penalty, and a radical transformation of how we do things ‘off grid’ like air transport, and road traffic.

      That is the MOST optimistic scenario is a more or less all nuclear electric one, and even that is far from ideal.

      The worst of all worlds would be a failed attempt to build an all renewable one, with a steady decline of fossil energy into spiralling energy costs impacting broadly across a lowering material standard of living being somewhat in between.

      The fantasy that it will be ‘business as usual ‘ with ‘sustainable growth’ powered by ‘renewable energy’ is simply inconsistent with the knowledge we have of science technology and economics.

      Normally a deluded world-view is only held by a minority of unimportant people, but this is not: its being pushed by almost every political party and media outlet as ‘the new vision’.

      Perhaps in the end, the demise of the West will not be on any account more than the proof of the axiom, that with democracy, you can fool most of the people for long enough to utterly destroy the technological infrastructure on which their lives, they discover too little and too late, absolutely depend.

      And that Darwin in the end ensures that people who believe in convenient lies, are incapable and unworthy of survival even though the dream they believed in was held up to be an inconvenient truth.

    7. Joris van Dorp

      I more or less agree, although I concluded that AGW is actually real and dangerous enough that we need to drastically reduce carbon emissions.

      That said, it is completely obvious that many different parties are trying to make the most of AGW, in order to sell their particular fake solution. But all that circus does not invalidate the central fact (MHO) that AGW is a clear and present danger that needs to be solved in a serious and effective way.

  9. Robert Wilson


    Good post, and I agree with most of it. However I would take issue with your statement that the growth in solar is “an extraordinary achievement by any standard.”

    The growth in solar production (as well as capacity) is now growing faster than wind, and this is even assuming that 2012 was as windy as 2011. Emissions could be reduced far faster if they re-directed the money from solar to wind. That’s the simple economic argument.

    The other problem is that solar has quite limited potential, maybe 15% at most until storage options come along. Wind on the other hand could provide at least three times this. So, the expansion of solar is currently far too fast considering its limited potential.

    I suspect the reason solar is being pushed so hard by German greens has little to do with climate change and more in pursuing an energy mix that suits outdated green prejudices.

    1. jmdesp

      I doubt it’s really possible to go 45% wind.

      In 2011, according to the ENTSO-E numbers, wind in Portugal was only 19% of production, however they already have had one day where it has reached 93% of production.
      See “domingo, às 04.30 horas, o valor da produção eólica atingiu 93% do consumo”

      And already they handle that only by having very large exchange capacity with Spain, so that they can send there a large part of their production (just like Denmark with Germany/Sweden).

      The trouble is that it’s extremely hard to vary any fossil power fast enough to compensate (much easier with hydro). Below 50% of load, even recent CCGT are out of their comfort zone, and become quite less efficient. Below 20%, even the very newest must be shut down or they’d exceed authorized emission level of CO, and other dangerous pollutants.
      And every time you shut them down, you have to incur a gas consumption penalty when restarting, which means they’d better stay shut down at least 4 or 5 hours.

    2. Leo Smith

      I am not sure that gas turbines are that poor at high dispatch.

      Unlike e.g IC piston engines.

      However I would say you are only exaggerating slightly. The impact of high and uncontrollable energy flows on a grid designed for slowly varying and predictable demand is ‘unfortunate’ at best, and at worst is utterly destructive. And leads to increased fuel burn.

      to the point where IIRC the Czech republic has warned Germany that they will disconnect their interconnects if Germany doesn’t keep its own grid in order.

      Non one knows, or if they do, they are keeping quiet about it, how many gas turbines are on hot standby, or coal stations throttled back burning coal, losing heat as ‘spinning reserve’ when the sun sets on the mighty Green Reich of Germany, and they lose up to half their generation capacity in a couple of hours …

      As an engineer, like the Irishman when asked how to get to Kerry ‘If It were me, I wouldn’t be starting from here’

  10. Leo Smith

    You may be interested in the following – rather crude analysis.

    Apologies for style, just concentrate on the content and methodology

    Some facts on electrical carbon footprints of various nations are available at

    In the UK reporting is quite good on various energy matters: these are summarised here on another site

    There is no solar recorded since it is not metered centrally and is largely domestic unmetered or metered solely to garner FITS.

    As one poster says, what would be really good is to have as well as electrical generation by fuel type,. the amount of fuel being consumed, so cross correlation between fuel usage and wind/solar patterns could be undertaken.

  11. Leon

    Behind the scenes the Energiewende is driven by the incentive of short term profit of the regional and national governments and the energy companies which are owned by them. If the nuclear powerplants would have stayed open longer, higher tax rates would be charged. Making energy companies want to cooperate on fasing out nuclear.

    1. jmdesp

      You’re referring to the nuclear fuel tax ? The companies were happy to pay it if it meant they could keep their nuclear plant.

      What they didn’t want was to both close them, and have to pay that tax.

      Then there’s the inane story of the Garona plant in Spain where the government tried to get it to pay 150 millions Euro of additional taxes for 2013.
      As a result, it would have been unprofitable, so it has closed. The government doesn’t get its 150 million, it doesn’t get the other taxes the plant was paying, the workers are now joining the other jobless people in Spain, and the energy will be generated by other more expensive and more CO2 intensive means !

  12. Jonathan

    Very good analysis and shows that for as long as fossil fuels remain a major part of the mix shifts between coal and gas will have a significant impact on emissions.

    One point already touched on, Germany shut the first tranche of eight reactors shortly after the Fukushima accident, early in 2011, so comparing 2011 to 2012 doesn’t show the full impact of the first step of the phase out, you do need to go back to 2010 when nuclear generation was around 133 TWh. The WNN article linked above reported overall electricity emission rose by 2-6% when comparing 2010 to 2011, despite demand falling. There should be no additional direct influence from the nuclear shutdowns until the next closure in 2015.

  13. G.R.L. Cowan

    Is there a ready source saying how much feed-in tariff money was paid for that 27.6 TWh of solar PV electricity?

  14. Johannes

    > coal is worse on every score than nuclear

    What about radioactive waste from nuclear power plants?
    Coal produces lots of waste as well but is it as bad (or even worse) as nuclear?

    Do you have any numbers around this topic?

    1. Leo Smith

      what about it? its only an issue in the mind..radioactive waste from coal plants exceeds it many times over.

      The only things going for coal is its cheap,. abundant., easily and safely stockpiled.

      Overriding advantages in many countries. For those without ready access to it and little or no hydro potential or gas, nuclear is far and away the best alternative.

      Germany has access to cheap coal. Ergo by mastering the doublethink it can pretend to be green by ditching nuclear and installing wind and solar, whilst building lots of new coal to actually generate the reliable electricity it needs.

    2. Robin Curtis

      Try a look at:

      Fremlin JH: Power production: What are the risks? 2nd ed. Bristol, UK: Adam Hilger, pg. 58, 1989. – for a refreshing look at risk.

      …and bear in mind the amount of radioactivity that goes up every coal fired power station’s chimney stack – in normal everyday operation.

    3. Janne M. Korhonen

      Johannes –

      you may also want to see a bit more recent results, e.g. from ExternE study, reported in e.g. The Lancet in 2007 (Markandya & Wilkinson 2007, Energy and Health 2: Electricity generation and health. Lancet 370:979-990).

      The numbers – health effects per terawatt hour of electricity produced in Europe, on average – from the aforementioned source are as follows:

      Lignite (brown coal)
      premature deaths from accidents (public) 0.02
      premature deaths from accidents (workers) 0.10

      Health effects due to pollutants spread during operation & accidents:
      Premature deaths 32.6
      Serious illnesses (e.g. heart attacks) 298
      Non-serious illnesses 17 676

      Anthracite (black coal)
      premature deaths from accidents (public) 0.02
      premature deaths from accidents (workers) 0.10

      Health effects due to pollutants spread during operation & accidents:
      Premature deaths 24.5
      Serious illnesses (e.g. heart attacks) 225
      Non-serious illnesses 13 288

      Natural gas
      premature deaths from accidents (public) 0.02
      premature deaths from accidents (workers) 0.001

      Health effects due to pollutants spread during operation & accidents:
      Premature deaths 2.8
      Serious illnesses (e.g. heart attacks) 30
      Non-serious illnesses 703

      premature deaths from accidents (public) 0.03
      premature deaths from accidents (workers) N/A

      Health effects due to pollutants spread during operation & accidents:
      Premature deaths 18.4
      Serious illnesses (e.g. heart attacks) 161
      Non-serious illnesses 9551

      premature deaths from accidents (public) N/A
      premature deaths from accidents (workers) N/A

      Health effects due to pollutants spread during operation & accidents:
      Premature deaths 4.63
      Serious illnesses (e.g. heart attacks) 43
      Non-serious illnesses 2276

      premature deaths from accidents (public) 0.003
      premature deaths from accidents (workers) 0.019

      Health effects due to pollutants spread during operation & accidents:
      Premature deaths 0.052
      Serious illnesses (e.g. heart attacks) 0.22
      Non-serious illnesses N/A

      N/A means effects so far have been too difficult to measure/data not available (the ExternE study was conducted in the 1990s). As a reminder, the values are for centralized, relatively large-scale power plants. For local production of energy, e.g. for wood-burning at homes or the use of oil in cars, the numbers probably need to be adjusted upwards to reflect the absence of efficient scrubbers.

    4. Alex Biersack

      Your numbers are interesting, and I would like to add that estimates for deaths by using plant oil diesel or ethanol vary greatly, estimates are between 100,000 additional deaths in the third world into millions. The problem is that the west with its financial power is buying away food, which raises food prices and causes lots of addition deaths due to starvation.

      If for example we buy maize to produce ethanol, first the price for maize goes up. People who can no longer afford maize will have to buy other food and hence increase the price of all other foods by substitution.

      A second effect is that agricultural land for the production of maize is expanded if that is more lucrative for producers, and as a consequence farm land is no longer available to feed the poor.

      A third effect is that rain forests are burned down to make room for more palm oil or other fuel crops, thus not only negating the positive CO2 effect, but also accelerating the destruction of biodiversity, turning the initial goal of reducing CO2 to protect and preserve wild life by preventing climate change ad absurdum.

      Electricity production with biogas from food is not only dangerous locally, but scientific studies are already out, which show that the green house gases and the air pollution caused by these unclean fuels is worse than even simply burning coal.

      Local damage is caused by leaks in biomass power plants of liquids and gases. Also there are chemicals added which contain selen and other poisons to increase production of gas by bacteria in the biogas plants. What happens is that these wastes are then simply thrown onto the fields as fertilizer every few months, where they pollute the ground water and finally end up in our food chain, where they can be detected in potatoes or other crops we eat.

    5. Janne M. Korhonen

      Also, regarding the problems with radioactive waste, some perspective is useful. As an example, the worst-case scenarios for Finnish Onkalo deep repository envisage the single maximum additional dose for most affected person (one that’s living above the repository, drinks water exclusively from a local well, and eats exclusively foods grown in the area) at no more than 1 mSv per annum, and most likely no more than 0.1 mSv/a.

      This may be contrasted with several other sources of additional radiation exposure, such as

      – living in Finland on average, compared to world average: +1 mSv/a
      – living in certain regions of Finland: + 5-10 mSv/a
      – working 8 hours a day in a building made from granite (e.g. Finnish house of parliament): +4-5 mSv/a
      – working or living in a former coal ash dump: +1 mSv/a
      – living in a house lined with gypsum board: up to +0.4 mSv/a

      If gypsum boards, for example, are not a radiation hazard, how come the nuclear waste storage – with worst case leaks in the latter within same range as normal exposure in the former – would be? Answers to this question would be much appreciated.

      It is also worth noting that the largest amount of water-soluble radionuclides that may be leached from the fuel pellets within full Onkalo repository (designed to house all high-level waste from 4 reactors) is about the same as from ca. 27 self-luminous EXIT signs. This level is not exceeded even when the waste ages, as the process of transport from inside the pellet to the surface (where the water may leach them) is extremely slow.

      True, there are lot more within the fuel pellets, but their leaching would require a physical force that crushes the pellets and exposes their internals (and even then, it would require that the other, independent barriers are broken). While within realms of possibility, I have serious doubts whether this is a realistic threat.

      After all, the Oklo natural reactor produced waste for longer than we have to keep our wastes separated from the environment – possibly for as long as 250 000 years – AND kept them practically immobile, even without any purposeful barriers, for 2 billion years or so. To believe that careful efforts would be more than 300 000 times less effective than pure chance in restricting the movement of radionuclides seems to me a bit of a stretch.

  15. Astro Gremlin

    The decision to pursue solar and wind is heartwarming. Unfortunately, engineering power production still demands adherence to the laws of physics. There is not enough sun or wind in Germany to support the lifestyle to which the German people have become accustomed. Fukushima, given the worst case scenario inflicted upon it and being botched by prideful human failings after the fact, is actually an engineering triumph. Rather than being carried away by emotional politics, with lasting consequences for the environment, pursuit of the new nuclear designs would serve the Green cause much better. There are engineering solutions for nuclear power, including safe disposal of waste. Thank you for this rational accounting that shows a technically advanced nation wrestling with its happy assumptions in the cold light of reality.

  16. SteveK9

    Here is what is frustrating. How oh how can we deal with CO2 and climate change?

    France in 2008 (Wikipedia)

    TWh %
    Coal 27 4.70
    Oil 5.8 1.01
    Gas 22 3.83
    Nuclear 439 76.35
    Hydro 68 11.83
    Solar PV 0.04 0.01
    Wind 5.7 0.99
    Tide 0.51 0.09
    Bio (other) 5.9 1.03

    Total 575 100.00

    Coal is even less now I believe. And, this was all done in about 20 years.

    Develop EV’s (not unlikely), more nuclear and the problem is almost solved.

  17. John Galt

    Nuclear will change from uranium solid fuel to thorium liquid salt fuel. No one in the end will care whether India and China does it first or whether it’s the Israelis and Americans. It will take decades but it will happen. It will be an extremely disruptive technology so entrenched interests in all energy industries will fight it. That is how creative destruction works. Thank you Mr. Schumpeter.

    The watermelons (green on the outside and red on the isnside) are a roadblock, but they are not going to win. They didn’t stop fracking in the US and Canada although they have in parts of Europe. They will not stop LFTR’s and Thorium because they have no foothold in China and India. Infact, air quality is so lousy in China that Thorium (a by product of rare earth mining and hence free) will be embraced with ease.

    If you are young then join the bandwagon. If you are older as I am you know what the future holds despite that the fact you won’t see it. It would have been fun.

    In the meantime read “Super Fuel” by Richard Martin and watch “Thorium Remix 2011” on Youtube. Then tell your friends and buy this book and send it to your government representative – im my case my new Congressman.

  18. Peter Lang

    Mark Lynas asked:

    “Although I have been unable to find clear figures for the changing CO2 intensity of German electricity (if anyone has them, please post in the comments below),”

    IEA (2012) “CO2 Emissions from Fuel Combustion)

    Germany’s CO2 emissions (Mt CO2):

    From all fossil fuel combustion in 2009 and 2010 were: 747.1; 761.6 (p48)

    From electricity and heat in 2010 = 326.9 (p69)

    See the 2011 report to get the figures for 2009.

    1. Leo Smith

      But electricity AND HEAT do not present a picture of electricity ALONE.


    2. Peter Lang

      Leo Smith,

      Suggest you read the IEA report. It explains.

      Heat is a relatively small component of the Electricity and Heat figures: But read the report to see how they have separated them to provide some electricity only figures this year (2012 report) for the first time.

    3. Leo Smith

      I don’t understand. By far and away the greatest use of gas in the UK is to heat houses and industrial properties. some oil is also burnt industrially and domestically.

      How much electricity is used for heating is completely irrelevant.

      The only measure of quality of the total grid is fuel burnt per MWh generated.

      Its never measured…because when it is it makes renewable energy look like the crock of shit it actually is.

    4. Peter Lang

      Leo Smith,

      I agree, you “don’t understand”. that’s why I said “read the report”.

  19. Christian Roselund

    Dear Mr. Lynas,

    I am afraid that your analysis looks at the very short term. A 5.1% growth in hard and brown coal (lignite) generation from 2011 to 2012 still leaves coal generation well below any year before 2008. This hardly makes a coal renaissance. Over the last ten years, coal generation has fallen significantly, as renewable generation has expanded.

    Germany continues to add more renewable generation capacity every year. Next year’s solar numbers will be much higher when the full effects of the nearly 7.6 GW put online this year come into play. And despite the feed-in tariff cuts, you can expect more solar installed in Germany next year.

    You are too well informed to be making these sorts of mistakes in analysis. The Energiewende is a fact on the ground, and will continue.

    – Christian Roselund

    1. Leo Smith

      One hopes fervently that Germany continues to race ahead with a renewable strategy.

      Only by its utter catastrophic failure, will those who cling to it without understanding why it can never deliver in its promises, be disabused of their religious fervour.

      We owe much to Germany: why, they have even given us the correct word for our delight in watching arrogant, self opinionated people who persist on jumping off cliff tops in the solemn belief that they alone know how to ‘miss the ground’.

      I believe it’s called ‘Schadenfreude’.

      What our American cousins call ‘popcorn time’ .

      Its is an existential battle between those who Believe that throwing money at a technical issue will inevitably result in the desired solutions, versus the blind implacable forces of the very Nature these sacrifices are made to, that stubbornly refuses to conform to the Democratic Process, Green Socialist Ideals. instead insisting on making the technology conform to the laws of physics.

      Meanwhile in the real world, with a vast Arctic high over the North Sea, overcast conditions, and low winds across NW Europe. wind and solar will be contributing almost nothing, to anything, as the big freeze creeps across the continent.

    2. Tom Blees

      Leo, you’re right on the money. I’ve been saying for a long time that we owe Germany a debt of gratitude for demonstrating the utter lack of viability for wind and solar to be the energy workhorses of an industrialized nation (or any other).

      Christian writes: “The Energiewende is a fact on the ground, and will continue.” It’s already continued far too long, for Germany and Denmark have produced ample data to show its futility. Case in point: Remember last summer when solar advocates made a big deal about Germany producing almost half the electricity they were using for a couple hours of a couple days? There was all sorts of hyperventilating on the windy/sunny blogs about how they were well on their way to an all-renewable future.

      Well, those same over-hyped solar panels might as well be disconnected from the grid on a lot of winter days. But a country needs lots of energy all the time, not just occasionally. There’s a very illuminating website that shows the actual solar output of the entire country of Germany for any day you care to look at. I was talking to somebody last week about it and went there to show them. We looked at the total solar output for the days just preceding. Take a look yourself at January 16-20. Here’s the site.. Of course the wind might have been blowing some of that time, or it might have been dead calm. Who knows?

      The bottom line is that for all the billions of Euros that Germany has committed to wind and solar (I’ve seen enough figures from reliable German organizations to be quite sure it’s more than 100 billion Euros), they have to maintain a total generating capacity equal to their total demand with non-wind/solar sources, because frequently they get nothing from wind and solar. So they’ve got a system—like other countries—to meet their demand (with all the attendant costs), PLUS they’ve poured so much money into the wind and solar that they’ve tacked onto their system (and which causes their grid to be devastatingly unstable.) that with all that extra money they could have built a fleet of cutting-edge nuclear plants (assuming they could build them anywhere near the cost that China can) that would have allowed them to completely abandon fossil fuel AND wind and solar, produce all the stable electricity they want, become a prominent electricity exporter, and save billions to boot.

      This is a case of national delusion. It’s hard to believe they continue in this folly. It behooves all of us to pay attention—to the data, not the fantasy.

    3. Leo Smith

      I’ve summarised the problems here

      Needless to say all these objections are hand-waved away with airy comments about ‘new storage technology’ ‘global interconnects to give geographical diversity’ ‘smart grids’ etc. etc.

      None of which are actually available, not likely to be, and whose costs are never ever factored in to ‘the cost of renewable energy’, which is now (by a devious process of including carbon taxation and other penalties to fossil and nuclear ) achieving, we are told to understand, ‘grid parity’ And notwithstanding that the total energy storage needed to make summer solar available for winter demand is of the order of several large nuclear warheads. I’d hate to be near it if anything went wrong.

    4. Christian Roselund

      You don’t need winter storage for summer solar. The balance between solar and wind works fine in this regard, as wind produces more in the winter.

      Generally, you don’t need storage or other other major infrastructure fixes until solar and wind reach a certain level on the grid. In the Western US, this is 5% solar and 30% wind.

      You are free to continue to make disingenuous arguments to those who don’t know better, in defense of a risky, dirty, dangerous, expensive and capital intensive form of power that no private company will touch without government subsidies and insurance, and which citizens in Germany and other nations will not accept. The energiewende will continue.

    5. Leo Smith

      You do need storage if you are simply not going to waste summer power. At the very LEAST you need storage overnight. and 20-30GW for 8 hours is no mean storage. Its vastly ,ore than exists anywhere.

      And don’t give me the lie about peak electricity being required during the day. Peak electricity is consumed at nigh just after dark when people are still working and eating and shopping and watching TV.

      As far as your laughable figures go, I note you don’t actually state whether you meant capacity, or actual average output of the renewable generators. So it smells like another evasion coming up.

      30% *average* output on a grid from wind will TOTALLY – on a windy equinoctal day, produce so MUCH electricity that some will simply have to be switched off. Same goes for wind on a windy day.

      You don’t actually need ANY storage as long as you don’t mind having – in the scale of Germany’s solar – an equivalent amount of coal or gas plant all hot and steamed up and ready to take up the load as the sun sets.

      The cost of which, capital and maintenance and the fuel burn to keep in standby – is never counted as part of the ‘cost of renewables’.

      You are free to continue to make disingenuous arguments to those who don’t know better, in defence of a risky, dirty, dangerous, expensive and capital intensive form of power that no private company will touch without government subsidies and insurance – that is renewable energy, so called.

      Meanwhile people who can Do Sums and understand cost and cost/risk/benefit analysis will continue to advocate clean, safe, low cost, reliable compact, low environmental impact nuclear power.

      If people are bothered by CO2. Otherwise burn the coal.

      You may think that you can lie your way into renewable energy. Maybe you can. But it wont in the end profit you to destroy your nations economy and grid stability and put the lives of millions at risk from power failure, or continue to rely on imported energy from less foolish neighbours.

      It’s stupid, it’s selfish and it’s ultimately suicidal.

      But that’s the German Way isn’t it?

    6. Christian Roselund

      The daytime peak is much larger than the evening peak in Germany and most nations. Right now, solar is reducing the need for flexible generation by meeting that peak.

      But don’t take my word for it. On page 59:

      You are free to maintain your mythology about Germany’s power system, which you either do not understand, or think that no one else does.

    7. Leo Smith

      Please stop lying.

      The daytime and evening levels for the UK are easily discovered here.

    8. Alex Biersack

      Even if Solar and Wind would produce 100% of electricity during the daytime, you would still need power in the night. And you cant just turn coal power plants off for 8 hours and think that they will run at the same efficiency. Turning these large furnaces on and off also means a lot of stress on the parts and a shorter expected life span. Also that would mean it takes much longer to come to a financial break even, thus coal power would become more expensive and this is already happening today in Germany.

      The government wants more gas plants, but utilities dont want to build them under these financial conditions. So what to do? Subsidize these too?

      Fixing on error with another and another, only making electricity ever more expensive is nonsensical especially if the original goal to reduce CO2 is not met.

    9. Leo Smith

      That of course assumes that the original goal was in fact to save CO2 emissions.

      Rather than to provide a boost for German industry by constructing large quantities of irrelevant technology, forcing its adoption by a European wide community, and meeting arbitrary targets relating to ‘renewable’ adoption, not carbon reduction. Thus pleasing the easily fooled Green contingent that Something Was Being Done.

      The only other possible explanation is that the powers that be are utterly completely incompetent and were themselves fooled.

      Its reminiscent of WMD in Iraq.. were the leaders stupidly taken in by what they wanted to believe, and was politically convenient for them to believe? Or were they cynically aware that there were in all probability none, because the advisors had advised them of such?

      Incompetence or deception are the only possible explanations when leaders embark on faith based policies that are convenient, and turn out to be based on wrong assumptions.

      And then they turn round and say, as Tony Blair did, that ‘he honestly believed he was right’ – and so that’s all right, then.

      As an engineer, backing up solar and wind with COAL is probably the worst cost/risk/emissions/pollution solution I can think of.

      Everybody in the business knows that hydro and nuclear are absolutely the top low emissions combination, with nuclear hammering away at the baseload and hydro providing fast acting peaking demand following. If you haven’t enough hydro, gas is second best.

      In this respect nuclear competes directly with coal. Every nuclear plant is a coal plant you can shut.

      Renewables require that the coal plant be kept. And run far less efficiently.

    10. Alex Biersack

      I agree to you, but diverting massive amounts of money and production capacities to useless stuff is a simple way to commit economic suicide. Especially if – as a side effect – energy prices go up dramatically. That’s a simple recipe for deindustrialisation and destruction of wealth. Keynesian nonsense.

      The greens in Germany have not comprehended yet, that the only choice they have boils down to nuclear or fossil in the end.

      And I am not such a fan of hydro. I know it has a crystal pure image to the true believers of the green religion, but if you look at the numbers, the deaths per TWh, the risks, the number of people displaced, the nature destroyed for it in normal operations, it seems even worse than coal.

    11. Leo Smith

      Well hydro is massively fast-acting 0- full power in a couple of minutes – and its very low emissions. So it has its place. I agree that putting lots of it in unsuitable geography with poorly constructed dams in earthquake zones is asking for a bigger disaster than Chernobyl. And it has a large foot print. BUT if the geography is there, and the people are not, its very good as a generator.

      In the end the point is not to have religious views about one technology over another.

      I’ll even say that there are two places where wind has a place – one is in the Mojave desert by the Hoover dam – that’s got good output but is always short of water. add some wind and you have reliable power and it saves water. Mind you the colorado river is icy cold, so a nuke there would be more cost effective.

      The other is new Zealand, again with mighty hydro, and good wind. And relatively underpopulated. Again nuclear is more cost effective, but if you really don’t want nuclear….

      The places where nuclear is far and away the best option are densely populated countries with little or no fossil or hydro potential. Japan and the UK being two prime examples.

      US has coal and gas aplenty for now.

    12. Tom Blees

      Christian, you write: “Right now, solar is reducing the need for flexible generation by meeting that peak.” When? Not in the winter time. Just look at the link to the actual data that I mentioned above. On many days of the year—frequently many days in a row—German solar panels are producing virtually zero electricity, all day and all night. There’s no question about peak demand times; that’s irrelevant when nothing is being generated.

      You talk about the mythology of Germany’s power system? Clearly a case of projection. You are in a terribly weak position to castigate anyone else for making disingenuous arguments. The facts speak for themselves.

    13. ColinG

      Christian Roselund, if you read Mark’s article you would see that he is not suggesting that there is a “coal renaissance”. Nor is he denying that renewables have grown.

      He is simply observing that the growth in renewables in the last couple of years has not displaced any fossil fuel; nor has it reduced carbon emissions from electricity. Instead it is making up for Germany’s premature and unecessary nuclear-phase out.

  20. Alex Biersack

    Here is an article explaining that CO2 production in Germany would have fallen without the Energiewende because newer fossil power plants are more efficient, but that they run only on partial loads now and that of course cutting nuclear power has increased CO2.

    Remarks here that Lynas only looked at a too short time frame are ridiculous. It is still true what Lynas is saying here.

    What I regret is that the picture in all these discussions concentrates only on electricity, as if no air pollution or CO2 was produced by heating houes with oil or worse even wood pellets. Heating could be done with electricity from nuclear power plants without air pollution and without the need for batteries that you see in e-mobility, which produces only a rather small fraction of all CO2 if you look at society as a whole with heating and industrial production.

    That is why I prefer to look at the primary energy. I am sorry, but these are the most recent numbers I know off published by the German government. If anyone has more recent numbers for primary from a reliable source, let me know.,property=pdf,bereich=bmwi2012,sprache=de,rwb=true.pdf

  21. Barry Woods

    Hi Mark

    Have you read Prof Dieter Helm’s – The Carbon Crunch

    He is an economist and in it he spells out the realities of coal, germany but especially China. He says gas is preferable to coal emissions wise, but as you show being displaced by coal. He merely spells out the facts, not approving of it.

    At the IPPR event rather than deal with China’s coal reality and an expected doubling in GDP, and the resulting extra coal use.

    All Baroness worthington could manage to do is misrepresent him as wanting a dash for gas. Andcwave her hands saying china are investing in renewables, ignoring hard cosl economics in China

    He was reported as being G Osbornes econimic advisor in the Guardian…

    And a few you know Lord Lawson smears were brought out.

    Which he was pretty cross about.

    He said he has met Osbirne once and is not his advisor, and recounted when he contacted the Guardian’s Fiona Harvey about that claim, she told him Greenpeace had told her… Fiona of course did not check with Dieter before writing it.

    And Dieter received lots of unpleasant email from the climate concerned because of it.

    A definite pattern of ignore, misrepresent or smear the messenger of anybody trying to explain economic realities

  22. Tom Bond

    Using the data from this artcle and data from the German Federal Environment Ministry (BMU) see link the following conclusions can be determined.

    Germany’s electricity renewable generation for 2012 is 22%.

    66GW of solar and wind produced 73,000GWh or 12%, with a capacity factor of 10% for solar and 16% for wind.

    11GW of Hydro, biomass and urban waste produced 62,000GWh or 10% with a capacity factor of 55% for hydro and 75% for biomass.

    As a comparison, 12GW of nuclear produced 99,000GWh or 16% with a capacity factor of over 90%.

    Total net subsidy payment mainly to solar and wind installation between 2000 and 2012 is €73 billion. In 2012 it was about €20 billion which is locked in for 10 to 20 years out to 2032, as the subsidy is paid for 20 years after installation.

    To efficiently distribute the peak solar and wind generation requires €27 billion of grid upgrades by 2030. See

    The Flamanville 3 EPR latest cost estimate is €8B for a 1.63GW nuclear reactor. See

    Thus for the €73 billion spent to date, 15GW of nuclear power could be constructed and for the €20 billion ongoing subsidy, another 4GW annually could be constructed.

    By 2025, the renewable subsidy could have paid for almost 70GW of nuclear power enough, along with hydro and biomass, to supply all Germany’s electricity needs from non carbon sources, truly an opportunity squandered.

    1. Peter Lang

      Tom Bond,

      Thank you for the interesting figures. You could make the point clearer if you explained how much electricity would be generated by nuclear compared with wind and solar for the same amount of subsidy.

      And go one step further and say how much CO2 emissions would be avoided per year (or total to 2020) by nuclear compared with wind and solar for the same amount of subsidy.

    2. Leo Smith

      Depends on whether the nuclear is subsidised.

      I can show you how to work out the sums though.

      In the UK the capital cost of an offshore wind-farm (including decommissioning) is about the same as the same capacity nuclear. £3bn/GW.

      HOWEVER the nuclear plant life is 4 times longer, and its capacity factor is 3 times higher at least: in its life it will produce 12 times as much electricity.

      It will require no massive grid upgrades has almost no environmental impact and typically replaces coal as base-load.

      In addition to the capital cost of the wind, farm itself, it will require massive upgrades to the grid, will require gas or coal to operate as co-generator to cover for the intermittency, and will totally dominate the environment rendering large swathes of land unsuitable for any other purpose, including habitation.

      A windfarm capable of producing the same average output as e.g.Fukushima would completely cover an area of land (making it permanently unsuitable for habitation). larger than the (temporary) exclusion zone around that plant.

      Solar is a little better on land area. but worse on impact as it absolutely produces nothing at night, and winter output is far worse. Its even more expensive.

      Only by up playing the radiation hazards to a huge degree can the case against nuclear be made strong enough to militate against it as a technology.

      It is – in the absence of coal gas or suitable geography for hydro, the most cost effective, low lowest pollution, lowest impact and reliable generator there is.

  23. Fred Wold

    You say that the German people have “an irrational public aversion to nuclear power”. Do you mean, therefore, that it is irrational to remember all the effects of the Windscale Disaster, the Three Mile Island Disaster, the Chernobyl Disaster, and the Fukushima Disaster? Do you also mean that it is irrational to imagine that there could ever be another disaster, especially in such a high-tech and well-organised country like Germany, or even upwind in a neighbouring country? Are you saying that Germans should feel safe because there hasn’t been a disaster in Germany itself yet? Furthermore, do you also call the Japanese people who are opposed to nuclear power “irrational”? If yes, is this because they should feel safe now because of your rational arguments in favour of the technology? Also, are you saying that Germans are irrational to be worried about all the high-level nuclear waste that is produced by nuclear power because it will be extremely dangerous for hundreds of thousands of years, there is no solution to its safe storage, and it is increasing worldwide by 12,000 metric tons every year? Perhaps, as a perfectly rational person, you and your descendants would be happy to look after some of it in perpetuity (assuming that your progeny will be equally rational). How about taking responsibility for just one gram per year? That is not too much to ask is it? And perhaps you could recruit some of your fervent followers to do the same: it would only need about 12 billion rational people like you to find a perfectly- and permanently-safe place of their own choosing for the rest.

    1. Leo Smith

      No: it’s irrational to remember is if they had happened, imagined effects that never actually did happen at all.

      Its irrational to claim that very long lived nuclear waste is dangerously radioactive, when if it was, it couldn’t be long lived.

      Its irrational to call Fukushima a disaster. It wasn’t. It was a difficult situation which has ultimately been handled well, if totally over-conservatively and with zero loss of life. Now or in the future.

      It is irrational l to conflate long lived low level waste which you could probably eat tonnes of safely that exists in large amounts, with a few tonnes of high level waste, which are easy to store safely, indefinitely. Or use as nuclear fuel.

      In short the answer to your question ‘is it irrational’ is an unequivocal “YES”!

    2. Fred Wold

      High-level radioactive waste is a mixture of short-lived (tens to hundreds of years), medium (thousands of years) and long-lived (hundreds of thousands of years). They are all deadly. Plutonium 239, for instance, has a half-life of 24,000 years and it only takes one milligram to kill you.

      Regarding Fukushima, I refer you to : “It is the largest nuclear disaster since the Chernobyl disaster of 1986, and only the second disaster (along with Chernobyl) to measure Level 7 on the International Nuclear Event Scale.”

      And if you think it has all been nicely cleaned up, I quote further: “Around August 2012 two greenling were caught close to the Fukushima shore, they contained more than 25,000 becquerels a kilogram of radioactive cesium, the highest cesium levels found in fish since the disaster and 250 times the government’s safety limit.”

    3. Leo Smith

      Ah, but do you actually know what the governments safety limit is, or why its there, or how much danger it actually represents.?

      IN two weeks time I will be going in for a CAT scan which will expose me to more radiation in three seconds than the average person in the Fukushima zone would be exposed to in a year.

      Radiation limits – statutory limits – are held at such levels that there can be no conceivable ill effects whatsoever. They are regularly exceeded by people who fly high, by people who live in certain parts of the world, and by people in hospitals.

      Oh and a milligram is not a lethal dose of plutonium. Nothing like.

      “Several populations of people who have been exposed to plutonium dust (e.g. people living down-wind of Nevada test sites, Hiroshima survivors, nuclear facility workers, and “terminally ill” patients injected with Pu in 1945–46 to study Pu metabolism) have been carefully followed and analyzed. These studies generally do not show especially high plutonium toxicity or plutonium-induced cancer results.[91] “There were about 25 workers from Los Alamos National Laboratory who inhaled a considerable amount of plutonium dust during 1940s; according to the hot-particle theory, each of them has a 99.5% chance of being dead from lung cancer by now, but there has not been a single lung cancer among them”


      So keep on spreading those scary lies. They will kill you quicker than nuclear power will.

    4. Fred Wold

      If you read that article on plutonium toxicity more carefully, it says, “However, calculations show that one pound of plutonium could kill no more than 2 million people by inhalation.”

      One pound is 453,592 milligrams. Divide that between 2 million people and you get 0.2 milligrams per person as the lethal dose. So plutonium is even more lethal than I stated, according to your quote.

      The radioactive caesium found in the Fukushima fish has a ‘short’ half-life of 30 years, which, as you rightly stated, makes it even more deadly than plutonium. According to

      “A 1972 experiment showed that when dogs are subjected to a whole body burden of approximately 44 microgram/kg of Caesium-137, they die within thirty-three days.”

    5. Alex Biersack

      Chemically toxicity of plutonium is between that of nicotine and caffeine. Usually plutonium occurs in forms that are not ingested by the body.

      There have been people who had high doses of plutonium in their bone marrow and still survived for many decades.

      Regarding fish and ocean water: radiation does not go far in water and anything that enters the water is quickly diluted to completely harmless levels. The ocean is big and contains a lot of water.

      The greenpeace scare legends are spread by them to get more money from people with irrational fears. They cannot be taken serious will all the nonsense they promote about nuclear power.

      They claim uranium will run out in 50 years, while it has been known for decades that there is enough uranium for 100 billion years that can be retrieved at less than 250$ per pound.

      They claim that over 100.000 people have died due to Chernobyl, while all scientific data clearly shows that less than 50 people died.

      What they are spreading, also on wikipedia are simply lies.

      Even Stuart Brand who did the Whole Earth Catalog and founders of greenpeace are distancing themselves from greenpeace and saying it was a crime to prevent nuclear power.

      See this for fun: Galen Winsor eating plutonium and using it as a flintstone, so he probalby also inhaled some. He is now dead but reached the mid 80s, not something where you can say, it killed him…

    6. Leo Smith

      The official death toll from Chernobyl is IIRC 73 or 78.

      Slightly more than 50.

      and 3000 non fatal thyroid cancers from the highly bioactive AND radioactive Iodine 131, which disappears within weeks.

      Indeed the death toll has been so low that its sparked a huge amount of research into actual mutation rates from radiation, leading to the tentative conclusion that the regulatory limits are probably between 100 and 1000 times stricter than the actual data suggests they need to be..

      There are a lot of things in the modern environment that give you cancer: radiation is simply not one of them at current levels, or even post atomic test or post Chernobyl.

      As far as availability of uranium goes, its a tough one to answer. For sure there is enough for present needs and way into the future. But how much depends entirely on the economics of extraction Its unlikely that it will ever get to the EROI limit, which oil will, but even so, it might get mighty expensive. The best estimates recently is that there is enough, with advanced reactor designs to keep us going a few thousand years till we can get fusion working., And if its good enough for the sun, its good enough for me..

      Leaving aside ‘Climate of Fear’ CO2 issues, it makes sense to burn cheap coal right now, and have enough nuclear expertise to ramp that up to cover the shortfall when coal gets simply more expensive than nuclear. Its a decade or so off yet, but the time will come when nuclear is the ONLY viable alternative.
      That is apparent to anyone who understands the intricacies of power generation. The problem is too few people do, and they aren’t talking.

    7. Alex Biersack

      I agree to most of the last, but would like to add that the thyroid cancer cases in Chernobyl where the result of a lack of knowledge. This would not happen today any more.

      People living in continental areas tend to have a lack of iodine and the mistake was to let people especially children drink and eat radioactively contaminated milk in particular. Today we are aware of the short term problems of cesium and iodine and know what to do about it.

      Also it has been shown a long time ago that uranium can be gotten from ocean water at a price of less than 250$ per pound for the next billion years. With breading this can supply 100 times more energy than we are consuming today. Recently researchers at Oak Ridge laboratory have developed ion exchangers that are way more efficient than the ones the Japanese used. So EROI and costs will not be an issue for Uranium for as far as we can see into the future. Of course Uranium will be mined on land, as long as that is even cheaper but ocean as a source for uranium sets an upper bound on the price we will have to pay in the long run. This is very good to know.

      The conclusion can only be we have abundant energy readily available if we want or need it. There is absolutely no reason for preservation or saving or polluting our environment with mercury from so called energy saving light bulbs or burning down rain forests for more palm oil monocultures or starving innocent third world children by taking their farm land and food for our energy production which is immoral and unethical.

      I really dont understand why so few knowledgeable people go after the criminal actions of greenpeace and the other anti humanistic environmentalists and their malthusian thinking.

    8. Alex Biersack

      It is irrational to call Three Mile Isle a disaster, even if greenpeace people – probably from Germany – call it that, since no one has died, and not a single case of cancer was caused.

      It is irrational to call Fukushima a disaster, where even during a very severe earth quake, not a single person has or will die from radiation exposure.

      It was irrational to hysterically evacuate the people, which has caused many unnecessary deaths. This you can call a disaster.

      Even calling Chernobyl a disaster is a little bit exaggerated when you see that it has caused less then 50 deaths as WHO and UN reports determined, most of which where workers exposed to extreme doses.

      The latest UN report shows that the LNT theory has been disproven which shows that the ALARAmist approach is a misguided undertaking.

      In that case you should also call driving children in a school bus an insane risk. It could also kill 50 innocent kids.

      Being rational means looking at the alternatives and comparing risks and choosing the energy with the least risk. And that happens to be nuclear and not even solar PV or Wind.

      When comparing the environmental damage, you have to compare the greenhouse gas effect of nitrogen trifluoride, which is released during the production of PV and has a 17,200 times stronger greenhouse effect than CO2, or the 20 metric tonnes of mercury which come into the environment in the EU through the so called energy saving light bulbs against which the negative effects of burned up nuclear fuel rods stored underground pale.
      Or take the deaths caused by taking the third worlds plant oils, soy and maize for so called clean energy. Compare the rain forests burned down for more plant oil petrol production and its air pollution to the pollution caused by nuclear power.

      Compare the environmental damage caused by preventing nuclear and continuing to burn coal. Burning coal releases more uranium and thorium into the environment than nuclear.

      Also claiming that fuel rods will remain dangerous for a long time is ridiculous. Modern breeders can and will burn up the plutonium and uranium in them once the destructive forces of anti humanist criminal environmentalists have been overcome and we recycle them.

      So being rational would mean to stop saving energy and instead developing safe small reactors like the Toshiba 4S for the third world and building 400 nuclear power plants in Germany by 2050. This would give Germany an economic boost and also boost the trade balance as over 100 billion € for imports of oil, gas and coal would be eliminated.

      Being rational would mean to stop focusing on electricity alone and also look at the fact that about 1/3 of the energy goes into heating in Germany, which is done by burning oil in a rather unclean and unfiltered way. All this could be replaced by either electric heating, which is very clean or by nuclear powered district heating grids.

      So if you want to start being rational look at the whole picture and then find that not even 3% of primary energy in Germany come from PV, wind or hydro.

    9. Fred Wold

      I’ll just pick out one sentence from your stream of nonsense:

      “Also, claiming that fuel rods will remain dangerous for a long time is ridiculous.”

      OK, so why do they want to bury the high-level radioactive waste deep underground in geologically stable rocks?

      Please reply in one rational sentence, if you can.

    10. Leo Smith

      To placate people like you, who strangely enough have been given a vote?

    11. Fred Wold

      Hey, everybody! Leon Smith and Alex Biersack and their descendants are willing to take responsibility for some of the high-level radioactive waste for at least 100,000 years, because they thinks it is not dangerous. How much are you willing to look after, guys?

    12. Leo Smith

      well we have the advantage of you. We know that the whole planet is in fact MADE of radioactive waste formed in a HUGE nuclear explosion called a supernova.

      A bit more or less hardly seems worth bothering about.

    13. Fred Wold

      You’ve shot yourself in the foot there because that’s exactly why our Earth was totally hostile to life for the first 100 million years. (By the way, It’s obvious who is paying you to keep up this endless stream of pro-nuclear drivel.)

  24. Fred Wold

    People who dare to say that Chernobyl was not a disaster should read this article

    “The Exclusion Zone covers an area of approximately 2,600 sq km in Ukraine immediately surrounding the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.”

    “Today, the Exclusion Zone is one of the most radioactively contaminated areas in the world.”

    “The borders were based upon soil deposits of Strontium-90, Caesium-137 and Plutonium as well as the calculated dose rate (Sieverts) as identified by the National Commission for Radiation Protection of Ukraine.”

    However, some tourists are occasionally allowed in for brief, carefully-guided visits:

    “Tourists are accompanied by tour guides at all times and are not able to wander too far on their own due to the presence of several radioactive ‘hot spots'”.

    “The territory of the zone is polluted unevenly. Spots of hyper-intensive pollution were created first by wind and rain spreading radioactive dust at the time of the accident, and subsequently by numerous burial sites for various material and equipment used in decontamination. Zone authorities pay attention to protecting such spots from tourists, scrap hunters and wildfires, but admit that some dangerous burial sites remain unmapped.”

    The Strontium-90 and Caesium-137 have half-lives of about 30 years and will still be dangerously radioactive for 60-200 years. Plutonium 239 has a half-life of 24,100 years.

    “Areas outside of the Exclusion Zone designated for voluntary resettlement continue to be evacuated.” I wonder why…

    1. Len

      Don’t forget that the Ukraine has a large incentive to maximize our impressions of the damaging effects of Chernobyl, since they gain significant donations of support to mitigate them.

    2. Leo Smith

      One of the most radioactively contaminated areas in the world

      But the wildlife isn’t dying and nor are the people who stayed.

      Ergo radiation is about 1000 times less dangerous than some people would have you believe.

      In fact several parts of the UK are naturally more radioactive. Well known holiday destinations too.

    3. Fred Wold

      We’re all still waiting for you to say how much high-level nuclear waste you and your descendants are prepared to take off the governments hands every year and look after for 200,000 years, since you insist that it’s such wonderful, natural, safe stuff. Put your money where your mouth is……..

    4. Leo Smith

      why would I have any issue with taking any or all of it?

      Its not that dengerous.

  25. Peter Lang

    Fred Wold,

    You’ve provided no context for your numbers so they are meaningless.

    Examples of context you should provide are:
    • How many fatalities and what is the total damage costs of nuclear accidents to date
    • Divide this by the amount of electricity generated by nuclear to date to get fatalities and a damage cost per TWh
    • Compare these figures with equivalent figures from other sources of electricity generation (hint: world average fatalities per TWh: nuclear 0.09, coal 60)

    Then provide context by telling us:
    • How many fatalities has nuclear avoided world wide so far (hint: around 2.5 million – rough estimate in my head)
    • What’s the value of that (hint: about $1 trillion – in my head)
    • How much CO2 has been avoided (hint: about 50 Gt CO2)
    • Value: at $10/t CO2 = $500 billion
    • Value of cheaper electricity: around $500 billion
    • Benefits: Higher GDP growth, better health systems, education, infrastructure, reduced population growth rate.

    What is the value of all that? >$3.5 trillion?

    How do the damage costs stack up when put in context with the benefits?

    1. Fred Wold

      Hey Peter,

      You should start a campaign group to persuade all the people in your local area to agree to have Britain’s high-level nuclear waste buried under your county. I’m sure that if you quote all your above guestimates you’ll be able to persuade them. (Just don’t mention how long it be for 🙂 )

      This would be especially valuable at present since the last council in Britain (Cumbria) has finally voted NO to burying it under their county, so nobody else in the whole of Britain wants it.

      The government has nowhere to put it and so they would be really pleased if you could help in this way. It’s rather a lot now: it’s been accumulating for 60 years and will continue to pile up unless you can do something to help.

      Also, all the other countries in the world are having the same problem, so if you’re successful, perhaps you could help them out as well?

    2. Peter Lang

      I presume you are referring to the once used nuclear fuel UK has that contains sufficient usable energy to provide all UK’s energy for 500 years?

      According to David MacKay, the chief scientific advisor of the UK’s Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), this stockpile could be enough to provide the country with 500 years of low-carbon electricity.

      Your comments lead me to suspect you are one of those people who suffer from nuclear phobia (an irrational fear of nuclear power). If you want to know what caused your phobia, it was listening to and swallowing the doom-saying nonsense the anti-nukes have been spewing out for the past 50 years.

    3. Fred Wold

      And what will you do with all the radioactive waste from those reactors? According to the article, only uranium and plutonium is suitable. What about all the other nasty, unusable products that they turn into and produce: caesium-137, strontium-90, zirconium-93, caesium-135, palladium-107, iodine-129, samarium-151, technetium-99, tin-126, krypton-85, europium-155, selenium-79, and cadmium-113? They are what you end up with, however you look at it. Their radioactive half-lives range from 5 years to 16 million years. The world stockpile is growing by thousands of tons a year.

      Your comments lead me to think that you live in a fantasy world and continuously pull wool over your eyes.

    4. Leo Smith

      Caesium-137: Short half life of 30 years and while moderately biologically active. is all gone in 300 years or so: Simply store/bury for a few years is all. Not a huge risk if properly contained.

      Strontium-90: similar to above. 30 years half life. Used extensively in industry and medicine. Again short term storage or burying .

      Zirconium-93: very little is produced in reactors. It is one of only 7 long-lived fission products. The low specific activity and low energy of its radiations limit the radioactive hazards of this isotope (wiki) so not a problem at all really.

      caesium-135, far less dangerous than 137. So 2weakly radioactive as to be barely worth mentioning: (wiki) The low decay energy, lack of gamma radiation, and long half-life of 135Cs make this isotope much less hazardous than 137Cs or 134Cs.

      palladium-107, very long half life,. And so weakly radioactyive and in such small quantities only an anti-nuclear bigot would mention it.

      iodine-129, very nasty, but gone within 6 months. Storing fuel rods under water after removal from the reactor is the standard way to cool them and shield the emissions of radioactivity from the iodine. No long term storage implications at all.

      samarium-151, “The low yield, low survival rate, and low decay energy mean that 151Sm has insignificant nuclear waste impact compared to the two main medium-lived fission products 137Cs and 90Sr “ (wiki) So very little there anyway, and that of mnot much interest or haxared.

      technetium-99, Probably the only isotope of any concern at all, because technetium 99 is long lived and moderately active. It can be destroyed in specialised reactors with neutron bombardment. But currently its the chief candidate for simply burying. A considerable amount of technetium was released in atomic tests, and by Sellafield. No one died though.

      tin-126, well yes with sensitive instruments you can detect tiny amounts of this in a reactor. There’s probably been enough produced in the world to coat one tin of beans. Long lived low activity and in vanishingly small quantities

      krypton-85, well that occurs naturally of course, but its only a 10 year half life. Lots was released during weapons tests. It did nothing. Its nearly all gone now.

      europium-155, vanishingly small quantities, short half life of 4.7 years, ergo very easy to contain and no especially hazardous. It is biologically inert AFAICT.

      selenium-79, long lived but small quantities and low energy beta emitter. So virtually no hazard at all Unless you collected it all together an inserted it in your body.

      Cadmium-113? Well most of that gets burnt up in the reactor as its produced. You knew that didnt you. Of what is left the rest is all gone in a few hundred years and there’s almost none in the spent fuel anyway

      “They are what you end up with, however you look at it. Their radioactive half-lives range from 5 years to 16 million years”

      Well of course they are NOT all you end up with, but the rest are vanishingly small quantities and indeed most of what you list is of vanishingly small quantities and/or gone an a hundred years at best.

      There are only three elements in that list that are produced in large enough quantities and are sufficiently active AND sufficiently long lived to be any kind of issue. And one of those can and probably will be transmuted in next generation reactors.

      But you knew all that didn’t you? You simply wanted to conflate ‘dangerous’ ‘huge quantities’ and ‘thousands of years’ to give te artificial impression that substances with ALL THREE properties existed.

      IN financial circles that’s called fraud.

      Th reality of course is that long lived fissile elements are not particularly radioactive, and hence not p[particularly dangerous, and they comprise only a small fraction of the actual waste produced, the majority of which is either potential fuel, or gone very quickly, or of such low radioactivity (slightly contaminated concrete clothing packaging etc) that you just landfill it.

      Your motives in being so deliberately misleading are of course evident to anyone who has the wit to simply research what you list.

      But no doubt its intended as a scare story for the Green Unwashed.

    5. Robin Curtis

      At 74 comments and growing, Mark should have enough material to write another book now. This discussion precisely typifies the problem surrounding nuclear energy. Whilst I don’t have a huge hangup about radiation or the technology, the world at large is not currently sophisticated or responsible enough to handle this highly demanding and unforgiving technology. eg/viz the UK kicking the disposal problem down the road for at least another 10 years – before we even start again – having spent millions and endless years of manhours on it since the 1960’s.

      In the meantime, whilst this immensely partisan, unending, emotional debate drags on – we continue to uncontrollably piss 35 giga-tonnes/yr of CO2 at an ever increasing rate into the environment – which is going to do/is doing far more damage to the world, the oceans, plant and animal species and population at large than anything the declining civilian nuclear energy industry will manage to do. No sign of CCS getting off (sorry – getting into) the ground – which will need to be at least the size of the current oil industry to have significant impact. Burn burn burn is the order of the day.

      ps: (to reveal/clarify my bias – ex civilian nuclear engineer, ex radwaste depository explorer, now working/stalling/going backwards in renewable heat). Have a good weekend – and keep thinking.

    6. Fred Wold

      Robin: you say “we continue to uncontrollably piss 35 giga-tonnes/yr of CO2 at an ever increasing rate into the environment”.

      We can all do our own bit to change that. I don’t have a car, for instance, but cycle everywhere instead or use public transport. I have wood-burning stoves for heating and cooking. The only electricity I use is for lighting and my laptop. Obviously, not everyone can do that, but every change in that direction helps…

    7. Robin Curtis

      Fred – I totally and wholeheartedly agree – and commend you on your efforts.

      We need everyone to be making this kind of conscious decision and effort.

      I would dearly love the whole of the UK to be on truly sustainable, closed loop, low emission, biomass. At 60 million folk I don’t see it happening. Cornwall cut the lot down donkey’s years ago a) to burn and b) to prop up the metal mines. As did a bunch of the country. I hear suggestions that we might get to something like 10 -15% of our heating requirements in the UK, on “sustainable biomass”. However, if we use it in power stations – we won’t get close on the heating figure.

      For my own small part I have had something to do with the introduction of a significant fraction of the pathetically small number of ground source heating systems to the UK over the last 18 years or so. The major underlying driver, as fully understood by McKay at DECC, is the long term decarbonisation of heating – something the Germans/Swiss/Austrians and Scandinavians are miles ahead of us on (and surprisingly – even the US and Canada). My own house in Cornwall, which probably has a higher internal radiation level than most nuclear workers are allowed to operate in, supposedly runs on 100% renewable electricity, notionally supplied by Good Energy from Delabole. In reality – most of the juice probably comes from Hinkley Point B – a nuclear station that I spent a summer on as an undergraduate in 1970 getting bored out of my brains – which is about to reach the end of its (extended) working life. At the current rate of UK Government /EdF negotiation it might be replaced sometime in the early 2020’s – although this weeks’s decision by Cumbria may have an interesting (delaying) impact. In the meantime – it’s burn burn burn – with the renewables folk scrabbling around trying to do their bit to crank the UK up the ladder. Take a look at the UK grid fuel burn at the moment – it’s going up thanks to the increasing coal content! As it is in China, India and Europe. Surprisingly the US is coming down through it’s switch to gas – something the UK did yonks ago – but is now reversing !!

      Getting back to the topic – (sorry), I am somewhat amazed at some of the German effort – viz Lignite burning, and shutting down, rather than running down, their nukes. However, it appears to me that they have made a conscious government/industrial decision to go flat out on renewables – in order to be one of the strongest manufacturing/exporting players in the international game.

      In the meantime, the UK will just continue to export an ever increasing amount of what real wealth it still possesses (?) to pay in $ or € for the increasing amount of imported fossil fuel that we require – something the UK has never had to live with. I am guessing that the Germans are planning on avoiding a similar fate. Interesting times…….. I’ll be watching Germany’s ‘Energiewende’ – with interest.

  26. Thomas


    What would the 2012 numbers be if Germany had opted out of coal rather than nuclear?

    My Estimate: +10 TWh Atom, -10 TWh coal, wind blows unchanged, PV module cost unchanged.

    1. Peter Lang

      Thomas, I’d add:

      10 TWh of nuclear replacing brown coal would equate to:

      >10 million tonne CO2 avoided

      150 fatalities avoided (using USA figures of 15 fatalities per TWh)

      x million tonnes of Black Carbon

      x million tones and y square kilometers of coal mining avoided

      Other pollution and environmental effects of coal burning avoided

      Makes one wonder what the so called environmentalists really want, eh?

  27. Geoff Russell

    What matters isn’t relative growth but absolute per capita increase because that determines how fast you can decarbonise a country. E.g., France in the 1980s added 200 terawatts-hrs/yr … 20 twh/yr with a much smaller population than Germany. 8 twh of solar in Germany is much slower, and will slow even further as the money runs out.

    1. Peter Lang

      Geoff Russel is correct that the key issue is the rate of decarbonisation of the global economy. The rate of decarbonisation of the global economy has been slowing over the past two decades. It has slowed from about 2% per year in 1991 to about 0.7% per year in 2007 (see Figure 2: )

      Global CO2 emissions intensity of electricity has hardly changed in 20 years (1990-2010) – down just 0.8% (p90

      Two major reasons for this slowing are we’ve developed most of the hydro capacity and there is little left to develop (compared with the rate it was being developed through the 1950’s to 1908’s and the impediments put on nuclear power which have made it too expensive and to much of a financial risk for investors in the western democracies.

      You will notice that the rate of decarbonisation has been decreasing over the period the UN climate change conferences have been underway. They are clearly taking the wrong approach. The world is not going to agree to legally binding agreements/Treaties/Protocols with targets, timetables and penalties for breaches or a global carbon pricing system. It was never going to work that way.

      The far better alternative is to remove the impediments to low cost nuclear power and let freer energy markets provide clean energy to meet our needs.

    2. Leo Smith

      ..actually what matters is the net cost benefit of trying to stop uncertain climate change, using methods that don’t actually work, when global carbon dioxide emissions are beyond your political control, putting your own country and those of the bloc you are a part of, at risk, and killing many of your own citizens for profit and political motives…and it is looking increasingly likely that the models you based the necessity for carbon reduction on in the first place, are probably simplistic to the point of utter uselessness…

      …and realising that building as many filthy polluting brown coal burning stations as you can in a desperate hypocritical bid to appear to be being green, where in fact your policies and politics are as brown, dirty and shitty as the filth coming out of the power stations, is the only chance you have to square the circle and maintain the fiction that you are actually in control of the situation and know what you are doing.

      Never in the field of human politics, have so many been fooled, so much, by so few..

      Well, since the last time, anyway.

  28. Robin Curtis

    Becomes apparent in this discussion that most people have a pretty vague idea of just how much energy powers a European lifestyle – let alone the waste emissions that arise. Anyone have suggestions as to a really good illustration? The latest in the growing number of “Perfect Storm” articles, this one from from Tullet and Preborn ( has an excellent and interesting take on energy. It illustrates just how “cheap” fossil fuel energy is compared to the equivalent human labour costs…..and goes on to portray the interesting forecast of what happens as the energy cost of producing further energy continues to rise. The notion that renewable energy is “free” continues to pop up here – do folk really not understand the “cost” of capital/infrastructure ?

    1. Leo Smith

      No, the green myth concentrates on the ‘free’ bit . Well oil is free. You only have to find it and drill for it.
      Coal is free. You only have to find it and mine it.
      Uranium is free. See above.

      What matters is how much energy you need to invest, and human beings to create a functional generator over the lifetime of the plant.

      Here big is beautiful. Its a lot easier to build one big generator and have a few staff to service it and put it in a constant temperature turbine hall out of the weather and near your cranes and spanners than it is to stick 1000 windmills in the middle of the north sea. where wind rain and salt will ensure it breaks down frequently and badly, and the only way to fix it is by gas guzzling boats and helicopters.

      Also known as ‘creating green jobs’

      ..somewhere I have a paper that says that for every green job created, two ordinary jobs move to China.

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