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German Nuclear Power Politics: A Political Football

“We believe that we can show those countries who decide to abandon nuclear power — or not to start using it — how it is possible to achieve growth, creating jobs and economic prosperity while shifting the energy supply toward renewable energies.” 

I presume Chancellor Angela Merkel made this sound as if she was sincere, as she explained her sudden decision to phase out all nuclear power in Germany by 2022.  

This is the second time Germany has announced it would end the use of nuclear power by 2022.  Gerhard Schrőder’s center-left SPD/Green coalition enacted legislation requiring this more than a decade ago, in 2000.  Now Merkel, the leader of Germany’s CDU/FDP center-right coalition group who reversed the Schrőder decision, is reversing her reverse.  

The issue has been a political football.  

Merkel explained the decision as if Germans see a way to achieve it and these other well known German priorities:

“We don’t only want to renounce nuclear energy by 2022, we also want to reduce our CO2 emissions by 40 percent and double our share of renewable energies, from about 17 percent today to then 35 percent”.

Keep in mind that German per capita CO2 emissions are already one half those of the US.  Also:  ten years of the most aggressive solar subsidies on the planet resulted in the addition of about one reactor’s worth of electricity to German grids.  

It seems more political will than is available at present will be required to sustain all these policies. 

It is true that pressure to get rid of the nukes is greater than ever.  The German anti nuclear movement succeeded in staging its largest ever demonstration with 250,000 protestors on the streets.  Support for the most prominent anti nuclear political party, the Greens, surged in polls and in regional election results.  The election in Baden-Wuerttemberg produced a Green led coalition state government.  This is the first time there has been a Green Party Premier of any German state and this is the first Green led government at a level as high as this anywhere in the world.  Baden-Wuerttemberg was said to be the “heartland” of support for Merkel’s CDU/FDP coalition.  The CDU governed there for the last 58 years.  

Nationally, according to a Forsa poll published in Stern, the German political situation as of April 6 looked like this:

CDU     30%

Greens  28%

SPD      23%

FDP        3%

In Germany, political coalitions are formed after election results are in, not before as in a two party, first past the post system such as exists in the US.  That Forsa poll translated for US viewers comes out something like this:  

Green/SPD  51%

CDU/FDP    33%

Nationally, according to a Forsa poll published in Stern, the German political situation looked like this as of April 6:
CDU    30%
Greens 28%
SPD    23%
FDP     3%Nationally, according to a Forsa poll published in Stern, the German political situation looked like this as of April 6:

Which means if an election were held today and voters voted the way that Forsa poll suggests, Chancellor Merkel would be thrown out and Germany would have its first Green Party Chancellor.  

Those nukes look as good as dead.  

But are they?  There won’t be an election any time soon.  “No one in the [CDU/FDP] coalition wants an early election”.  See this FT.com analysis   And Merkel doesn’t have to hold an election until 2013. 

The chair of Merkel’s CDU party business council, Kurt Lauk, says Germans do not understand what phasing the reactors out will cost:  “Politicians – especially the Greens – are lying about the costs,” he says. “But the CDU has not got it across either.”

Many issues associated with nuclear power are also not understood.  For instance, George Monbiot, columnist for The Guardian, who understands climate change (see his book Heat: How to Stop the Planet from Burning)  and who once was anti nuclear is reexamining his beliefs.  Eg:  “The anti-nuclear movement to which I once belonged has misled the world about the impacts of radiation on human health.  The claims we have made are ungrounded in science, unsupportable when challenged and wildly wrong.  We have done other people and ourselves a terrible disservice”. 

Monbiot had just finished debating Caldicott:  he’d never seriously examined what she was saying before.  

It doesn’t help that the nuclear/climate debate resembles the situation in that Biblical story where everyone found they couldn’t understand each other after attempting to build the Tower of Babel too high.  

Prominent pro nuclear advocates who deny climate science applauded when cap and trade went down even though that meant low carbon nuclear would take the hit.  Prominent climate activists cheer at the prospect of reactors shutting down, even though nukes provide 70% of the low carbon electricity available in the US.  

One of the most prominent paid nuclear industry lobbyists in the US is a climate science denier.  He’ll tell you the Royal Society doesn’t know what science is.  There is a prominent pro nuclear climate scientist who promotes the views of those who deny the findings of the National Academy of Sciences on radiation, i.e. people who call NAS scientists corrupt, who will tell you by the way the NAS should be respected, because it knows what it is talking about on climate.  Its getting so a climate or nuclear activist can’t tell which scientist to trust on a given day on a specific issue without making a call to the respective party headquarters.

Anti nukes have somehow convinced a lot of people that nuclear power is more expensive to produce than solar power.  I’ve just put down a book, Climate Change Denial, written by a climate scientist who has been specializing in explaining how lies and flawed logic underpin almost all arguments used by climate science deniers, who did not notice that his own anti nuke arguments were of the same type.  It is an article of anti-nuke faith that there is no place to put nuclear waste, even though WIPP exists.  And there are the hard core, stupefying anti nukes, like Caldicott.  She has seized on Fukushima and is out there shouting from the rooftops that “Japan may become uninhabitable forever“.  That’s Japan. The whole place.  Uninhabitable forever. TEC periodically hosts her views. 

Its a madhouse out there.  

The German decision to aim for the second time to phase out their nukes by 2022 is  a product of the high tide of anti nuclear sentiment produced by Fukushima.  Those 250,000 people were out on the street March 26.  The election that produced the first Green Party Premier was held the same day.  As the bills come in for the infrastructure Germany will have to build to achieve their ambitious low carbon no nukes high economic growth goals, the lying about what things cost will be more difficult to do.  As hysteria over Fukushima recedes and the dust settles enough for it to become apparent what exactly happened, unfounded concern over nuclear should decline as well.  

This football looks set to be kicked around some more.  

P.S.  Although some are reporting as if Germany is the first nation to announce a complete nuclear phaseout, even though this is the second time around just for Germany, there is also the example of Sweden.  After Three Mile Island the Swedish government passed legislation requiring a phaseout of all nuclear power in Sweden by 2011.  As awareness of climate change dawned, the difficulties of creating a low carbon economy that can grow without using nuclear power caused opposition in Sweden to diminish to the point the new policy is to allow more reactors to be built.

Somehow, the NY Times managed to report on this recent German decision without mentioning either the earlier German commitment to end the use of nuclear power in Germany, or the attempt in Sweden.  The NYT is covering the fact that Germans are irrational on nukes: ” ‘Just as creationists attempt to ban the theory of evolution from the school books’, said a physicist, Peter Heller, in a Web posting that challenged the national nuclear orthodoxy, ‘it almost seems as if every factual and neutral explanation in Germany is now in the process of being deleted’ from the nuclear debate”.  The NYT’s own irrationality is harder for them to face.  


Authors note:  When the British Columbia Green Party had three Speakers instead of a leader, I was elected by the party to be a Speaker of the BC Green Party.  This was in 1990.  One of the founders of Greenpeace told me I was the most powerful voice to that point the Greens had had in Canada.  

The image is in the public domain in the United States.  . See Wikipedia:Public domain and Wikipedia:Copyrights for more details.

Front image by q83.

David Lewis's picture

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Paul O's picture
Paul O on Jun 5, 2011 2:53 pm GMT

David,

I have to ask, Just What is it that Predisposes “Greenies” to be so radically (rabidly?) anti-nuclear? I have found myself at a loss to understand this.

Why is it so compulsory for many “greenies” to loath and hate nuclear power, regardless of the current safety advances, and future developments which will virtually eliminate certain dangers from nuclear power from being possible.

How is it that they can “understand” the complex nuances of Climate Science, yet nuclear science which is based on Physics and very well understood by physicists, remains unclear to them.

Can you offer an opinion as to just what exactly lies at the core of this phenomenon?

David Lewis's picture
David Lewis on Jun 5, 2011 5:18 pm GMT

The last time I tried to attend a Green Party meeting in British Columbia, they refused my entry until they could hold a special meeting of the Party Council which rescinded my party membership.  

My crime at that time was to make the mistake of communicating beforehand to the then Party Leader that I intended to take her on in debate over her campaign aimed at persuading citizens to reject the proportional representation proposal the BC government was asking them to vote on via referendum.  No Green Party anywhere in the world ever got anywhere without proportional representation.  This Leader was adamantly opposed to the government proposal.  I thought she was making a mistake the party would pay for for at least a generation.  Green opposition, arguably, defeated that BC STV referendum.  The margin of defeat was less than 2% and Greens at the time were polling at levels greater than 10%.  The old electoral system is still in place, and sure enough the BC Greens can’t elect anyone under it.  That leader moved on to the federal Canadian stage afterward – there was no point flogging the dead horse Green politics remains in BC.  Her idea of democratic debate with me was to deny me access even to the meeting where they rescinded my membership.  

So, no, I don’t understand why “Greenies” oppose nuclear power.  They tend to be no more irrational than your typical pro nuclear advocate though.  

Try hanging out on pro nuclear blogsites and let it slip that you think the National Academy of Sciences assessment of how dangerous radiation is, i.e. that LNT is the model that best fits the total available data, is a good assessment of the entire body of scientific literature that is the state of present knowledge of radiation science.  Point out that Bernard Cohen has a section in his book The Nuclear Option on what scientific literature is, what the NAS is, how it operates, and the likelihood any independent panel it creates to assess any scientific issue could be corrupt and so stupid it can’t understand what the relevant scientists have discovered.  And try to get in the fact that the NAS repeatedly says no one ever asks them what society should do about radiation given what knowledge exists.  The pro nukes know who Cohen is.  Stand by and wait to be vilified.  I was condemned as an “anti nuclear zealot” on one site, and compared to a religious fanatic – a Moonie – at another.  Its entertaining, but dismaying as well.  

If you’ve read this far, here’s what I think about your question:  “greenies” are no more capable of facing the crisis civilization faces than anyone else.  People come to the environment movement for many reasons, most of which, like all politics, tend to be local.  The problem threatening civilization is global.  

You live across the lake from a wonderful climax forest, a whole untouched watershed too isolated until then to have been clearcut for the magnificent wood it contains.  You don’t want to see it go.  You organize your neighbours, you reach out to anyone who can help you with this cause, which isn’t the most important thing in the world, you know that, but its important to you.  I knew one woman motivated by this cause who crawled through the open window of the national paper of record’s environment reporter’s second floor office to plead with him to make her cause his.  She is credited with being the driving force behind the creation of several of Canada’s magnificent Class A National Parks.  She was “saving them for all future generations”.  But she sensed I didn’t see a future for those trees.  In my mind, we might as well face the fact they’re gone already.  Climate change is going to sweep them away.  A climax forest is an expression of climate.  She was willing to make alliances with political forces committed to the ultimate death of her dream – I saw no sense in that.  I worked to create a new political force.  Any new political force is opposed by the existing ones.  Her hatred for me was so astonishing I’d get feedback from say, Suzuki, Canada’s most prominent “greenie”, who wrote me after returning from taking a first hand look at one of those armed standoffs between Natives asserting their land rights and Canada’s national police force that sometimes make world news, that felt like a war zone, then he ran into this national park creator, my name came up, he thought he was right back in the zone, so he writes, what is this?  

You take your typical “greenie” who came to the “movement” over trees, she makes an alliance with someone who was so concerned about the careless use of industrial chemicals in her neighborhood that she became an advisor to Canada’s Cabinet, they get to know some anti nuke and the next thing you know they all are careful to support each other’s line on their issue of expertise in a sort of trade for support on their own issue of expertise.  

Something like this operated in the case of Monbiot I mentioned in my post, I think, where he’s supposedly an anti nuke for a while, changes his mind because he sees the far greater threat fossil fuel use poses, that dwarfs whatever is going to happen as a result of the nukes, so he examines, for the first time, what the anti nuke idol Caldicott, the almost Nobel Prize winning anti nuclear weapons opponent who became a caricature of herself extending that opposition to nuclear power, is actually saying.  And he is astonished.  

We’re being swept away by forces larger than we can hope to control and this is how it is. I support nukes because its the fossil fuel waste that threatens the existence of civilization and this age of life.  But the sheer size of civilization is bearing down on planetary systems on any number of fronts.  We need to find a way to assess what is happening and act to mitigate what we can but making tradeoffs at this point is like cutting your leg off to save your life.  Its hard to do.  

ralpph allen's picture
ralpph allen on Jun 5, 2011 5:46 pm GMT

Try writing about this which is going to change the world

The US government US naval research lab has been working on this technology for over 10 years .   

Rossi has announced a 1MW Cold Fusion facility to be opened in Greece this Oct.   
Andrea Rossi has given three demonstrations so far including with professors from Bologna University and the Swedish skeptics society and the Chairman of the Swedish Physics Union. This is an directory of Rossi efforts http://peswiki.com/index.php/Directory:Andrea_A._Rossi_Cold_Fusion_Generator.   This is a link to the LENR site where detailed information about cold fusion efforts is available. www.lenr-canr.org/News… 

 
http://pesn.com/2011/05/17/9501827_Ampenergo_Amps_Up_Rossis_Energy_Catalyzer_in_America/
“..Ampenergo was founded by Karl Norwood, Richard Noceti, Robert Gentile and Craig Cassarino. It is important to note that Robert Gentile was the Assistant Secretary of Energy for Fossil Energy at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) during the early 1990’s. This helps confirm Rossi’s claim that tests of the E-Cat have been observed by the U.S. Department of Defense and the DOE. It is very likely that at least certain individuals in the DOD and DOE are aware and interested in the Energy Catalyzer.

 

A Chief NASA scientist, Dennis Bushnell has came out in support of Andrea Rossi’s E-Cat technology … 
http://pesn.com/2011/05/31/9501837_Cold-Fusion_Number-1_Claims_NASA_Chief/

 

 

Dennis Bushnell is a Chief scientist at NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. He is also an inventor, author, and has been a consultant to countless government and military agencies. A few of these include the DOD, Air Force, DARPA, and the NRC. To read a more complete summary of his background, a good review can be found here. Recently, he was interviewed during an EV World podcast

 

Rod Adams's picture
Rod Adams on Jun 6, 2011 9:53 am GMT

Until September 2010, I worked in the office of the Navy headquarters that supplied funding for this project. All of the analysts thought it was a stupid expenditure on a mirage technology – the dreamer two-star kept putting the funding back in after we made a recommendation to zero it out. 

That particular rear admiral was also a fan of T. Boone Pickens and thought he really wanted to build wind turbines, not just sell more natural gas.

He also thought it was a fine idea to waste tens of millions buying algae based biofuels for fighter aircraft and ships – despite the fact that they cost more than $100 per gallon. He willingly moved money from operational accounts – by direction from a misguided SecNav – to pay for the frivolous experiment. It just so happens that the primary corporate interest in algae based biofuels is none other than ExxonMobil, a company whose annual revenues are 2.5 times as large as the entire US Navy’s annual budget. 

High rank does not necessarily require technical expertise or a grounding in reality. It often, however, does require a fine sense of where the political winds are blowing. I could have remained on active duty until 2014, but decided that I had seen enough.

Rod Adams

Publisher, Atomic Insights (Commander, US Navy (ret))

Rod Adams's picture
Rod Adams on Jun 6, 2011 10:22 am GMT

@David – you might get more converts if you would learn to stay focused and not produce such wordy comments.

The answer to the seeming illogical stance of the Greens can be found by interpreting “unintended”, but predictable, results of ACTIONS vice listening to words.

The leaders of many Green Parties are too addicted to money from fossil fuel interests to accept the notion that nuclear energy could lead to a vast abundance and far lower prices. They and their sponsors have recognized a vital fact – if there is a reliable supply of lower cost, emission free power available, people will buy that instead of buying pricier, more polluting, and more dangerous fossil fuels.

The proof of that statement is the very high capacity factors associated with plants that can “burn” emission-free, low-cost uranium. Their owners run them at as high a power as possible for as much time as possible. They hate shutting them down because they can make money by generating and selling unsubsidized power – even at low overnight prices – because their fuel costs are minimal. Nuclear plant owners are not afraid of carbon taxes; they work work to make them a reality as long as they are not stupidly structured to also tax uranium (like the ill advised Clinton era proposal that would have put a tax of greater than 400% on commercial nuclear fuel by taxing kilowatt hours). 

The only other power suppliers that hate to shut down their systems when market prices are really low are the wind generators, but they are worried about losing their Production Tax Credit income of $21 per megawatt hour if they do not produce.

Efforts by Greens to shut down operating plants and to prevent new ones from being built are aimed at keeping cheap nuclear fission energy out of the market by restricting the supply of machines capable of using uranium and thorium fuels.

The relation of Green leadership to fossil fuel is best proven by the example of Gerhard Schroder’s employment by Gazprom, but I can also show you examples from the US “Environmental” movement with videos of Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Carl Pope extolling the virtues of “clean natural gas.”

Rod Adams

Publisher, Atomic Insights

PS – I can explain the opposition of many “pro-nuclear” commenters to accepting AGW. Many engineers and scientists that understand nuclear energy well enough to know how beneficial it is also understand all of the good things that have come to human society from its ability to capture and use the heat from burning fossil fuel. Many of them have technical knowledge that allows them to move easily between working on nuclear projects and working on fossil fuel related projects. They work for companies or government agencies that use at least as much fossil fuel as they do nuclear fuel. Some of them are lifelong automotive racing fans or powerboat owners.

I know you are above such base economic arguments, but when you threaten people’s paychecks, the paychecks of people they know and respect, and seek to vastly increase the cost of their fossil fuel consuming hobbies, you should expect resistance.

Paul O's picture
Paul O on Jun 6, 2011 12:31 pm GMT

Having read comments by David and Rod, it would appear that the Opposition of Greens to nuclear power can be explained thusly:-

 

1) Some Greens are politically tied together with others who have strong anti-nuclear roots, and hence they tend to mirror and support beliefs and attitudes of those ant-nuclear Greens.

2) Some other Greens may be deriving financial benefit from the Natural Gas industry (which provides load leveling for intermittent green energy sources), hence they ally themselves with the Natural Gas proponents against Nuclear Power.

I would like to believe that there are many Greens out there who are persuadeable like Monbiot, but have just been temporarily swept by anti-nuclear sentiment heard from other Greens.

In the case of Germany, it has the feel of Group-Think run amok. I hope no one takes offemse to my saying this, I simply am at a loss to understand how a whole country can react the way they have.

Paul O's picture
Paul O on Jun 6, 2011 12:28 pm GMT

Ralphla54,

 

Your articles about cold fusion is fascinating and worth reading, but frankly it doesn’t seem like it belongs in this particular thread.

David Lewis's picture
David Lewis on Jun 6, 2011 5:23 pm GMT

 

Schroder would never be called part of the “Green leadership” in Germany by anyone there.  He is the leader of the SPD, the Social Democratic Party of Germany.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_Democratic_Party_of_Germany  The SPD political formation is “green” in the sense that the US Democratic Party is “green”, especially if both are compared to the current Republicans. The US Democratic Party will say its going to do a lot of “green” things, such as enact climate legislation, but their own internal divisions kept them from doing so even at the high tide of their power when they theoretically controlled all three branches of the US government.  Health care is what they spent their political capital on.  Rod says judge by what people do. I tend to agree.  
But you can only judge based on your perception of what people do if you can see it.  Its one thing to point out that “green” advocates of “clean natural gas”, because they are supporting the continued existence and expansion of the fossil fuel industry that “greens” themselves say is killing the planet, and suggest they could do better by supporting nuclear power. But it is quite another thing to accuse “greens” of being bought off by fossil interests. The net effect of “green” opposition to nuclear power is more pressure to use fossil fuel, that is the history, therefore, Rod tells us, “greens” are corrupt.  It doesn’t follow.  Schroder left politics and got a job with Gazprom, Rod tells us that means something about “greens”, even though Schroder is about as “green” as Obama.  Rod retires from the Navy and gets a job in the nuclear industry.  Does that mean Rod is corrupt?  I don’t think so.  
I cited the example in British Columbia where the BC Green Party shot itself in the head when it opposed a government proposal to implement a new electoral system that in the political circumstances of BC would have given the Greens their first elected representatives, their first Cabinet posts, and they would have held the balance of power.  Because left and right wing voters are split evenly with Greens getting about 10% of the votes there, the Green Party would have been able to choose which of the other parties would be the government the Greens would be a minority partner in. Instead the Greens chose to get nothing.  I brought this up to illustrate how people in politics sometimes act contrary to their own interests, and in ways that seem incredibly stupid.  Rod commented I shouldn’t be so wordy, then proceeded to explain his theory that “greens” are corrupt, not stupid.  It isn’t the first time Rod and I have disagreed. 

Schroder would never be called part of the “Green leadership” in Germany by anyone there.  He is the leader of the SPD, the Social Democratic Party of Germany.  

The SPD political formation is “green” in the sense that the US Democratic Party is “green”, especially if both are compared to the current Republicans. The US Democratic Party will say its going to do a lot of “green” things, such as enact climate legislation, but their own internal divisions kept them from doing so even at the high tide of their power when they theoretically controlled all three branches of the US government.  Health care is what they spent their political capital on.  Rod says judge by what people do.  I tend to agree.  

But you can only judge based on your perception of what people do if you can see it.  Its one thing to point out that “green” advocates of “clean natural gas” are supporting the continued existence and expansion of the fossil fuel industry that “greens” themselves say is killing the planet, and suggest they could do better by supporting nuclear power. But it is quite another thing to accuse “greens” of being bought off by fossil interests.

The net effect of “green” opposition to nuclear power is more pressure to use fossil fuel, that is the history, therefore, Rod tells us, “greens” are corrupt.  It doesn’t follow.  

Schroder, not a “green” in the first place as explained earlier, left politics and got a job with Gazprom.  Rod tells us that means something about “greens”, even though Schroder is about as “green” as Obama.  Rod retires from the Navy and gets a job in the nuclear industry.  Does that mean Rod is corrupt?  I don’t think so.  

I cited the example in British Columbia where the BC Green Party shot itself in the head when it opposed a government proposal to implement a new electoral system that in the political circumstances of BC would have given the Greens their first elected representatives, their first Cabinet posts, and they would have held the balance of power.  Because left and right wing voters are split evenly with the third party, the Greens, getting about 10% of the votes there, the Green Party would have been able to choose which of the other parties would form a government with them, even though they would only be the minority partner.  Instead the Greens chose to get nothing.  

I brought this up to illustrate how people in politics sometimes act contrary to their own interests, and in ways that seem incredibly stupid.  Rod commented I shouldn’t be so wordy, then proceeded to explain his theory that “greens” are corrupt, not stupid.  It isn’t the first time Rod and I have disagreed.  

 

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