German voters save their nuclear reactors
Published 29th September 2009 - 7 comments - 794 views -
Here's the situation: Germany's 17 nuclear reactors have a combined generating capacity of 20.34 GWe (gigawatts), which amounts to a quarter of the country's electricity. Their 2007 output was 141 TWh. (kilowatt hours) or 5.5 percent of the world's total nuclear power and ten times more carbon-free power than is currently generated from solar.
But Germany's socialists and greens hate the nuclear industry and when they were in government together at the beginning of the decade, they passed a law requiring a total decommissioning of nuclear power plants by 2021. The problem is that although Germany has considerable renewable energy capacity, this produces nothing like the same amount of electricity as do the nuclear plants. And there's no realistic hope that solar and wind can match them in the near future, which means that abandoning nuclear power would leave no alternative but to turn to fossil fuel, probably dirty lignite. Worse, if the socialists and the greens had prevailed on Sunday, Germany would have become much more dependent on Russian oil and natural gas. In January, the Russians cut off natural gas exports to a dozen European nations, including Germany, in a dispute with the Ukraine.
But Sunday's election triumph of Chancellor Merkel's conservatives and the market-friendly Free Democrats means the creation of a centre-right coalition government that will accept an expert commission recommendation to extend the operational lives of Germany's nuclear plants. Merkel's new government will continue to invest in solar and wind power, of course, but it may also consider building a new generation of nuclear plants to replace the existing ones as they are retired. That should see the return of water cannons to the streets.
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