How Risky is it For Germany to Shutter its Nuclear?

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An informative piece by Feed-in Tariff expert Paul Gipe, writing at Energy Bulletin, has some interesting data that suggests that Germany might manage without nuclear, that currently supplies 22% of its electricity.

Last week, in reaction to the nuclear power plant damage Japan sustained after the 9.0 earthquake and catastrophic tsunami, Chancellor Angela Merkel closed two reactors permanently, and another five temporarily, cutting off five of the seventeen reactors in the country.

Germany is as power hungry as Texas, and closing these nuclear plants seemed to be a bold step, and one that would seem to risk stepping backwards into the far worse problems long term that come from coal-fired power.

Not every advocate of a clean energy future agrees with me (See Zach’s “My thoughts on Nuclear”) but I think coal is much more deadly, harming human health both every single day that it’s in operation, and also over the long term, because the increasing climate change that its daily operation is causing will become truly catastrophic over the next 100,000 years. Cutting back on nuclear too soon, even with its risks (and its very nasty astroturf trolls) risks climate change.

Despite its tremendous growth in renewable energy, like the average state in the US, Germany gets 43% of its electricity from coal. Although it is growing wind, biomass and solar fast, currently that is just 6.2%, 5.6% and 2% respectively of the total it needs. Together with Hydro, Gipe’s figures show that German renewables totaled 17% in 2010, just short of the 19% that California gets (which does not include hydro) and well short of of the 20% that Iowa gets from just wind alone (although Iowa is much less populated of course).

Where Germany differs from California is that it has easily far exceeded the 12% by 2010 goal it had set, by getting 17%, mostly with Feed-in Tariffs that reward renewables. California, by contrast, is not yet at the 20% by 2010 goal it had set, although contracts have been signed for it.

So it is quite a gap to fill, as almost a quarter of its electricity comes from nuclear. But it turns out that this wass already in the planning.

Although it looks as if they might have to replace some of the nuclear budget earlier, in fact Germany was already on a path to adding more renewable power and shuttering nuclear plants anyway. With a vociferous opposition, Germany had already planned to eliminate all nuclear power by 2036 anyway, and ending civil usage even earlier – by 2020 under the Nuclear Exit Law.

Image: Greenpeace

Susan Kraemer@Twitter

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