Debunking Common Myths About Nuclear & Coal Power In Germany

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Every time you turn around, someone else is spouting some nonsense about energy in Germany (which just goes to show how much of a threat the actual story in Germany is to entrenched fossil fuel and nuclear enthusiasts). I’m not going to repeat most of the nonsense, since it might then stick in your head and you might forget that it’s nonsense somewhere down the road. However, Karl-Friedrich Lenz just had a great post debunking statements — some of the most common German energy myths — from a poor Guardian post by George Monbiot, and this is definitely worth a read, so I’m reposting it below.

To chat with Karl or share the original article with others (you should probably bookmark it for the next time you’re in a conversation with someone misrepresenting the facts), the link to the original is on the headline below.

George Monbiot Spreading False Information About Germany

George Monbiot, in the Guardian:

Germany also decided to shut down its nuclear power plants after the Fukushima crisis, due to the imminent risk of tsunamis in Bavaria. Last year, as a result, its burning of “clean coal” – otherwise known as coal – rose by 5%. That was despite a massive cut in its exports of electricity to other European countries. One estimate suggests that by 2020, Germany will have produced an extra 300 million tonnes of CO2 as a result of its nuclear closure: equivalent to almost all the savings that will be made in the 27 member states as a result of the EU’s energy efficiency directive.

Let’s refute the errors in that paragraph one by one. All numbers sourced from Arbeitsgemeinschaft Energiebilanzen.

For one, what “massive cut in exports”? Germany has exported more electricity than ever in 2012. That would be 23 TWh, as opposed to 17.7 in 2010, the last year before the nuclear phase out.

Monbiot doesn’t give a reference for this statement, even on the version of the article at his personal website, which does include some references. So I don’t know how he could get to that conclusion. Anyway, he really should learn to look at primary sources like Arbeitsgemeinschaft Energiebilanzen before commenting on Germany.

Next, it actually is true that coal (including lignite) is up around 5%, or 13.6 TWh compared to 2011. However, gas is down 12.5 TWh, around the same. The reason for that is of course that America is shipping cheap coal to Europe because of their vile and evil shale gas boom, and that carbon prices in Europe are far too low. Both developments lead to coal replacing gas, and both have nothing to do with nuclear in Germany.

The big picture in Germany is that fossil fuel use (all flavors added) is essentially unchanged in 2012 compared to 2010, that nuclear is in decline, and that renewable has replaced most of that nuclear phaseout exactly as intended.

Monbiot’s reference for this statement is a short article at Yale’s E360 digest. It’s from last August, so it is not suited for backing up any statement about “last year” in the first place.

The last “estimate” of “300 million tons” until 2020 is taken from this 2011 article at New Scientist, where it is backed up with a reference to “calculations by Trevor Sikorski”, which are not linked to or referenced. It is anybody’s guess how those “calculations” were made.

But it is of course true that shutting down a source of low carbon electricity will delay replacing fossil fuel by exactly the amount of electricity that would have been generated from nuclear if Germany had shut down its reactors a decade later (as was the plan before Fukushima).

Germany will phase out nuclear, since just about everybody wants it that way. At some point, people who dislike that fact because of concern for the climate need to accept reality and move on.

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21 thoughts on “Debunking Common Myths About Nuclear & Coal Power In Germany

  • Yeah I never understood phasing out old nuclear before fossil fuels – once it’s operating you already have to dispose of the waste, might as well use it first, but that’s just me. I’d say make some safety improvements, shut down the one’s that are unsafe and then get rid of coal first.

    • I suppose if you had experienced a nuclear meltdown in a neighboring country, a radioactive cloud passing over your country, and lingering radiation from that meltdown over 25 years later you might have a different feeling about nuclear.

      We can make safety improvements, but it’s pretty much the case we make safety improvements after a reactor gets in “unique” trouble, experiences a “Whoa, we didn’t see that one coming!” event.

      I agree with your overall strategy. Shut down the most dangerous, get coal off our grids and then re-focus on closing nuclear.

      In the US I think we need to give a lot of thought to closing Indian Point. If that one goes sour there is no possible way to evacuate the surrounding population. The cost of creating a Chernobyl-like wasteland in that location would be extremely high.

      • Yes, but I’m looking at it from the perspective of – by your own statistics, coal WILL kill x people this year (pick your statistic, regardless of where you cite it’s pretty high). IF something goes wrong, nuclear COULD kill y people. Follow that by the likelihood of something going wrong and it’s much better to shut down coal.

        Sure nuclear has a fear factor since all the people are located in one geographical area and it’s more noticeable to link them all together, but if you look at the overall possible damage, and look at the likelihood, the statistics say get rid of coal first…

        • I’m not arguing against closing coal first. Those nuclear plants we built are built and paid for. They won’t create a huge increase in the amount of used fuel we already have.

          But Indian Point is unique. There’s no feasible way to evacuate people around that one. The numbers would be huge.

          Get rid of coal quickly. Close nuclear plants as they wear out (if we need them that long). Figure out better storage solutions that let us phase out natural gas.

          We may see about a quarter of our nuclear reactors closing over the next few years simply because they go bankrupt. Wind and natural gas are wiping them out.

          One large repair bill could do them in.

          “Even plants with no pressing repair problems are feeling the pinch, especially in places where wholesale prices are set in competitive markets. According to an internal industry document from the Electric Utility Cost Group, for the period 2008 to 2010, maintenance and fuel costs for the one-fourth of the reactor fleet with the highest costs averaged $51.42 per megawatt hour.

          That is perilously close to wholesale electricity costs these days.”

          • There is possible accident such that evacuation would be required.

      • The spin masters are the anti nuclear radical greens.
        They complain that nuclear got most of the subsidies, yeah, cause wind and solar are like 1% of electricity, while nuclear is 18%. Subsidies as in % of money given as subsidies versus production, nuclear needs the least subsidies of all non fossil fuel sources.
        If we had zero subsidies for everything, nuclear would be cheap. Solar and wind would be DEAD !

        • Marcelo, I may be making a mistake but based on your writing you appear to be the jerk who was kicked off this site for violating community standards and has been sneaking back on under different identities.

          We’re going to say goodbye to you.

          • Yes, cos you can’t accept the truth.

      • France had a nuclear cloud passing over, with ZERO consequences, as predicted by Pierre Pellerin.

    • Yeah, the point is really just: Germans want nuclear shut down, so they are shutting it down. It’s a democracy, and the people have spoken.

      • The media have propagated lies, like you do.

        The media have spoken.

  • By the way, new nuclear does not only require a much longer building time than PV, it is meanwhile also more expensive than PV in Monbiot’s rainy Britain:

    EDF wants meanwhile up to
    £140/MWh for its new nuclear power plants in Britain and this doesn’t include
    decommissioning and waste repository:
    This is more than the feed-in tariffs for much more quickly built PV in the UK
    above 4 kW:

    So, if Britain invests in new nuclear instead of new renewables, it will emit more CO2 per £ invested and this also for a longer time.

    Also, what nuclear proponents usually miss, is the fact that the corporations which operate and invest in nuclear power plants are the same which invest in new coal power plants (e.g. Swiss utilities produce more fossil power abroad than what entire Switzerland consumes electricity in total). So if one gives those corporations more support hoping for more nuclear, they might just get more coal instead.

    What the German data also shows is the fact, that coal power plants can deal with varying demand without needing much gas power. It disproves that renewables require new flexible power plants as back-up.

  • Funny when somebody quotes solar or wind at this price / kWh. That’s price / kWh when solar or wind is producing, what’s the cost of natural gas (best case) load following plant operating at incredibly low levels of efficiency to backup solar and wind ?
    How about when there’s a few days of windless nights. No, I’m not talking about zero wind speed, but rather just winds of less than 10mph (16Km/h), wind turbine production is proportional to wind speed cubed until about 45Km/h or 28mph, from 20Km/h to 45Km/h, wind production increases (or reduces) by a factor of 10 !
    Please quote me the whole cost of massive grid transmission upgrades, pumped hydro, massive battery banks (for second by second load following that not even the most agile thermal plants can’t do).
    This whole wind+solar hoopla conveniently ignores that the grid doesn’t store electricity, and that too much electricity on the grid is just as bad as too little.
    If renewables minus nuclear can be 100% of electricity production, then go out and replace Hawaii to be 100% hydro, wind, solar, geothermal and biomass. They have one of the highest electricity prices in any USA state or territory, so it should be a no brainer, right ? Still waiting for that to be done to prove it works.
    Wind and solar with just 30% of the grid’s production is impossible without at least 3x the cost of the solar panels and wind turbines in electric batteries, cause they are the only storage medium that can go from 0% to 100% in a second, on demand. And it’s damn expensive.
    Too much romance and too little electrical engineering by you radical green guys.

    • CCNG and gas peakers are repetitively cheap to build. They have significant fuel costs. Until we have better (cheaper) storage NG is going to be the dispatchable fill in for renewables.

      I’m not going to get into the weeds with you on actual costs. That’s undo-able in a general discussion.

      Here’s the bottom line. Nuclear costs a lot more than wind and solar. Based on best public prices no one will build new nuclear for less than 16 cents per kWh plus very significant sweeteners. There have been five open bidding processes and that’s the lowest price.

      Onshore wind is selling for around 6 cents without any subsidies. Solar is running 7 to 10.

      If we get 40% of electricity directly from wind, 30% from solar and the last 30% from natural gas then the price of gas would have to rise to more than 34 cents per kWh to reach new nuclear’s cost.

      That’s arithmetic.

      • The cost to build nuclear in USA or Germany isn’t the real cost of nuclear.
        Nuclear is being built at 1/3 of the costs usually quoted by the anti nuclear environmentalists in South Korea, China, India, Brazil.
        Brazil is building a 1350MWe reactor for R$ 10 billion or US$ 4 billion. That’s US$ 3 billion / GWe.
        Part of the difference is labor costs, but most is having a rational nuclear regulatory system instead of the insane US NRC regulatory structure.
        Again, quote the whole costs, including the natural gas peaking, instead of the subsidized wind / solar cost.
        And I’m not a fan of water cooled / solid fueled reactors like we have today. The holder of the original light water reactor patent, Alvin Weinberg, wrote a document to the Kennedy administration stating that for civilian usage the right solution would be a Thorium / Molten Salt reactor, but since Thorium makes neither Plutonium or U-235, which are good for bombs, his document fell to death ears.
        Over half of the cost of light water reactor is providing primary, secondary, terciary, quarternary safety systems to contain the enormous, ultra high pressure cooker that is a water cooled reactor.
        However no serious investment will be made on the real solution to climate change, molten salt reactors fueled by Thorium and spent nuclear fuel will never happen if we keep this anti nuclear insanity.
        Again, having a natural gas peaking source (no matter how much) is insufficient to run mainly on solar and wind. Solar and wind generate second by second power oscilations that require something far quicker to respond. And you conveniently ignore the only solution for that is electrical batteries.
        Before buying the wind+solar cool aid, go study up on electrical transmission and generation systems. Go read up on the many USA states that can’t add more solar or wind to their grids otherwise they will start having brownouts every week.
        I know a few electrical engineers that work / worked for electricity generation and transmission (distribution) companies, they confirm everything I’m saying about the troubles of solar and wind without electrical batteries.

        • What the cost of nuclear in China or India is irrelevant.

          What is relevant is the offered cost of solar in the North America and Western Europe.

          • Off course it is. It shows the cost of nuclear in the USA isn’t a fair cost, its a bloated cost due to overburned nuclear regulation, it’s a bloated cost due to political pressure to prevent nuclear from happening at any cost. It’s like the anti nuclear folks that talk about the risk of terrorist attacks on nuclear power plants and ignore that the only terrorist attack on nukes was done by a radical green group (swiss or german) on a french nuclear reactor.
            It’s a self inflicted wound. It’s the result of this irrational nuclear is bad sentiment.
            Nuclear could be done in the US for about 5 billion / GW, if they had a rational nuclear regulatory system like the Canadian one.
            Your words just shows that you are start be the assumption that nuclear is unsafe. Then the nuclear is too expensive is strictly a way to pretend your issue isn’t with your feelings about nuclear instead of the facts about nuclear.
            BTW, I’m not in the nuclear industry. My only vested interest on nuclear is solving climate change. I have asked very pointed question at the real pro nuclear crowd (nuclear engineers). And contrary to your superficial position, I got really in depth, comprehensive data that convinced me nuclear is the only option that could solve the hole problem if it where allowed to.

          • The cost is what it is.

            It is not just the US. Also in the list was Canada, Turkey and the UK.
            You can spin and spin and spin. That won’t change the facts. New nuclear is too expensive to be built without massive government support.

            In other words, nuclear is not competitive.

          • The fact is that the cost is “what it is” but the result of politics.

Comments are closed.