Friday, June 3, 2011

Fukushima disaster fallout spreads to the whole nuclear power industry

Possibly the most conservative government in Europe--Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union in Germany--has decided to phase out nuclear power by 2022.  Folks, that is barely ten years from now.

Not surprisingly, the power guys are furious.  They thought they had a deal to extend the life of their reactors are now they are being told the end is near.  Besides, most of the proponents of nuclear power believed that with the necessary adjustments in the atmospheric carbon load to address climate change, they were the future.  Even ultra-sensible Finland had bought into this argument and started building a new nuclear installation (scheduled to go online 2013).

Roadmap for the Energy Revolution
Germany to Phase Out Nuclear Power by 2022
The German government has agreed on a roadmap for phasing out nuclear power. All of the country's 17 nuclear plants are to go offline by 2021, with a possible one-year extension for three reactors should there be the risk of an electricity shortfall.
It has been facetiously dubbed "the phaseout of the phaseout of the phaseout." But after weeks of heated discussion, the German government has made it clear that it is serious with its U-turn on nuclear energy.
Following talks that went into the early hours of Monday morning, Environment Minister Norbert Röttgen announced the details of the government's new approach to phasing out nuclear power. The new plan foresees all of Germany's nuclear plants going offline by 2021 -- with one possible exception: If the transition to renewable energy does not go as quickly as planned, three of the plants will be allowed to continue operating until 2022, as a kind of safety buffer against electricity shortfalls.
During the marathon meeting, the governing coalition parties -- Chancellor Angela Merkel's center-right Christian Democratic Union, its Bavarian sister party the Christian Social Union and the business-friendly Free Democrats -- thrashed out the details of the planned nuclear shutdown.
The proposals effectively reverse the government's own decision, taken last year, to extend the operating lives of Germany's 17 nuclear power plants -- which was itself a reversal of the decision made by former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's Social Democratic-Green administration to phase out nuclear power by around 2020.
Under the new plan, Germany's seven oldest reactors, which are already offline under a nuclear moratorium announced by Chancellor Angela Merkel in mid-March after the Fukushima disaster, will not resume operation. The Krümmel nuclear plant in the state of Schleswig-Holstein, which has been offline following an accident in 2009, will also be permanently shut down. more
German government wants nuclear exit by 2022 at latest
By Annika Breidthardt
BERLIN | Mon May 30, 2011 3:04pm EDT
(Reuters) - Germany plans to shut all nuclear reactors by 2022, Chancellor Angela Merkel's ruling coalition announced on Monday, in a policy reversal drawn up in a rush after the Fukushima disaster in Japan.
The coalition, sensitive to accusations it may increase dependence on highly polluting brown coal, said it planned to cut power use by 10 percent by 2020 and further expand the use of renewables such as wind and solar power.
Merkel's bid to outflank the opposition smacks of opportunism to many Germans but could ease an alliance with the anti-nuclear Greens that may be her best bet to stay in power. Polls clearly show that most Germans dislike nuclear energy.
In nine months, she has gone from touting nuclear plants as a safe "bridge" to renewable energy and extending their lifespan to pushing a nuclear exit strategy that rivals the ambitions of the Social Democrats and Greens. more 
Some in Germany thinks this all about politics.  Well might they think that since Germany has had some of the most organized anti-nuclear activists ever.
Blowing with the Wind
Merkel's Nose for Populism Yields Another Victory
A commentary by Roland Nelles  05/31/2011
With her new energy policy, Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel has snatched one of the Green Party's favorite pet issues from it.
After Fukushima, German Chancellor Angela Merkel had no other choice than to abandon nuclear power. Even if there are many open questions about how the transition to a renewables-based future can be achieved, the decision brings many benefits -- especially for the savvy chancellor herself.
Angela Merkel, the former high priestess of nuclear power, has found a new role for herself. She has transformed herself from a friend of the atomic lobby to a leader who appears to have an obsessive mission: to secure Germany's rapid exit from atomic energy, replacing it with solar panels on every roof and wind turbines behind every dike.
One could accuse Merkel of many things -- for example, that she changes her position depending on which way the political wind is blowing. The majority of Germans want a phaseout of nuclear power, so suddenly the chancellor wants it too -- end of story. But perhaps the truth is a lot simpler. Perhaps Merkel recognized that we cannot simply continue with nuclear power in Germany. That's why she did a 180-degree U-turn and has now positioned herself as some kind of modern day Sun Queen. It's a stance that fits nicely with what the people actually want. What a happy coincidence.
To a certain extent, the decision to phase out nuclear energy is a victory for Merkel's style of leadership -- let's call it Merkelism. The politics of Merkelism are based on two principles. The first is that, if the people want it, it must be right. The second is that whatever is useful to the people must also be useful to the chancellor.
With Merkelism, policies are developed with a long view -- namely with the next national election in mind. After the Fukushima catastrophe, the chancellor had two choices: She could either decide in favor of an expedited phaseout and take on the proponents of nuclear power within her own party. Or she could stubbornly stand behind her government's 2010 decision to extend the operating lives of Germany's nuclear power plants (itself a reversal of an earlier phaseout passed by the government of former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder) -- and take on the majority of the German population.
In the end, Merkel chose the lesser of the two evils. Even if it has irritated her own party, in the chancellor's mind it was the correct thing to do. It was also the only choice Merkel had if she wants to remain chancellor. Anything else would have led to a protracted debate over nuclear power with the opposition that Merkel could only lose. With the phaseout, she has a good chance of keeping the sympathies of a majority of voters, who are likely to conclude that she's not doing such a bad job after all.
Progress through Merkelism
As with many other -isms, Merkelism can also lead to some progress. After the Fukushima catastrophe at the very latest, it became clear that nuclear power is a technology that cannot be controlled. The peaceful use of atomic energy was a nice idea -- a 1970s dream of the future, just like concrete flower boxes, urban freeways or the soulless downtown pedestrian zones that were built in many West German city centers. It was supposed to make our lives better.
But the dream died. The flower boxes and freeways brought nothing more than urban blight, and the nuclear power plants awoke fear. They killed people in the former Soviet Union and in Japan. But we were told again and again that German nuclear power plants are the safest in the world and that nothing could happen here. But no one could really guarantee that safety, especially after Fukushima. Thus, shutting our nuclear power plants down is the only appropriate course of action.
Germany, the country of recycling, trash separation and organic supermarkets in every neighborhood, wants to become a model for other countries on how to become a nation of clean, politically correct energy. That's also a lot less naïve than it may sound, because there is a high likelihood that wind will also soon help to secure prosperity in Germany. German engineers constructed world-class nuclear power plants, and they will also export even better wind turbines, solar parks and electricity storage cells abroad. The early phaseout date, combined with state subsidies, will act like a second Industrial Revolution on the renewable energy industry. more

The World from Berlin
'A Huge Victory for the Anti-Nuclear Movement'
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is taking a potentially expensive gamble on the future by abandoning nuclear energy -- but it could pay off in a big way.
The government of German Chancellor Angela Merkel now has concrete plans to abandon nuclear energy by 2022. The move could make Germany a clean energy model for the world, but newspaper editorialists are deeply divided on the issue.
Less than a day after an ethics commission appointed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel determined that Germany could phase-out nuclear power within a decade, the government in Berlin moved to implement plans to shut all the country's atomic reactors. Under the new plan, all German reactors would be forced to go offline by 2022.
It was yet another about-face in the recent history of government nuclear power policy. After the Fukushima disaster in Japan in March, Merkel swiftly reversed controversial legislation passed by her government in October that had extended the lifespan of the country's nuclear power plants by an average of 12 years. An earlier government led by then-Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and the Greens had previously passed legislation that would phase out atomic energy entirely in Germany.
Following the nuclear catastrophe, Merkel ordered that seven nuclear plants be taken offline for a moratorium period of at least three months until the government had the chance to reconsider its position. Those plants will now remain shut down, as well as an eighth plant which had already been temporarily closed prior to the moratorium.
Although Merkel often described nuclear energy as a "bridging technology" until cleaner sources could be found, her shift was seen as nothing less than a 180-degree turn for her government. Many saw it as a cynical election ploy, coming as it did just days before pivotal state elections that her party ultimately lost, anyway. Weeks on, however, the majority believes the chancellor had no other choice given the broad consensus in the German populace that nuclear power has no place in the country. That sentiment is expected to be codified by the German parliament on July 8.
But despite the massive popular support, there are still clouds on the horizon for Merkel. Already, Germany's major energy utility companies, for whom operating nuclear power plants has been the equivalent of being able to print money, are threatening to sue over lost revenues potentially reaching into the billions as a result of the atomic shutdown.
German editorialists are split over Merkel's nuclear withdrawal plans. Many left-leaning publications fête the development, whereas conservative newspapers are asking if society can really afford the price tag that will come with green energy. more
France has the largest percentage of nuclear-generated electricity.  It has hardly even been controversial there.  Besides, sensible countries like Germany have it too, they reasoned.  Oops!
German decision has France pondering nuclear future
Germany’s announcement that it would phase out nuclear power production has shed new light on the conflicted French attitude towards the possibility of abandoning nuclear development.
By Jon FROSCH   France 24: 31/05/2011 
Germany’s announcement on Monday that the country would phase out nuclear power production by 2022 has caused some soul searching on the issue in France, which has more than 58 operating reactors and is one of the world’s nuclear powerhouses.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision is seen as a response to a shift in German public opinion on nuclear power in the wake of the Fukushima crisis.
But reactions to the news in France have been mixed, reflecting a stronger French attachment to nuclear power production – and a more conflicted attitude towards the possibility of stopping it.
75% of France’s electricity is produced in nuclear plants, and a recent survey by French polling agency TNS Sofres revealed that 55% of French people are against abandoning nuclear energy (compared to 87% of Germans and 77% of Swiss who said they were in favour).
The French government has reiterated its commitment to nuclear power production following the Fukushima disaster, insisting that France’s nuclear energy allows both businesses and individuals to pay significantly less for electricity than their German neighbours.
This position seemed largely unchanged by Germany’s shift in nuclear policy. Prime Minister François Fillon said that France “respects the German decision, but does not share it”, while Jean-François Copé, the secretary general of President Nicolas Sarkozy’s centre-right UMP party, noted that he would be “totally against” France emulating Germany in this respect.
He specified that nuclear energy “is today a major element of France’s industrial power” and that “independent authorities confirm that [its production] is done in remarkably safe conditions”. more
And now for the BIG controversy.  Nukes in Germany represent a HUGE investment.  One that is still paying off--thank you very much.
Business Model at Risk
Nuclear Phaseout Could Spell Disaster for German Energy Giants
With the government's decision to phase out nuclear energy, Germany's four biggest utility companies face an uncertain future. Profits could tumble this year by as much as 30 percent and the companies are also becoming increasingly vulnerable to takeovers. Are the days of giant energy companies numbered in Germany?
Jürgen Grossmann loves playing the role of the lone knight. Speaking in Düsseldorf last week, the veritable giant of a man declared that neither the German government nor Chancellor Angela Merkel herself could "divert him from his nuclear plans." As the CEO of RWE, Germany's second-largest electricity producer, Grossmann has an enormous responsibility toward both his company and its 70,000-strong workforce. He says job security is close to his heart, and because of this, he has vowed to fight for his employees.
And fight he must. The Japanese nuclear disaster at Fukushima and the subsequent debate about nuclear safety have plunged Germany's energy industry -- in particular the country's four biggest utilities, RWE, E.on, EnBW and Vattenfall -- into a hitherto unimaginable crisis.
Profits now look set to plummet. According to internal company estimates, after-tax earnings could fall by up to 30 percent this year alone. That's partly because customers are fleeing in droves to the big four's environmentally friendly rivals, such as Lichtblick and Naturstrom, companies that offer electricity free of nuclear or coal sources. The share prices of electricity companies have been on the decline for months. As a result, the stock exchange darlings of yesterday may now be the takeover candidates of tomorrow.
As if to add insult to injury, the German government this week announced it would permanently reverse its plans to extend the lifespans of nuclear power plants in the country. A post-Fukushima "moratorium" had already taken the seven oldest of Germany's 17 nuclear power plants off the grid. They will now stay permanently offline, as will another plant that was already out of operation following an accident in 2009. Under the plan agreed by Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) and the business-friendly Free Democrats (FDP) on Sunday, Germany's remaining nuclear plants will also be shut down between 2021 and 2022.
The government has handed a small olive branch to nuclear energy producers by allowing them to transfer their allotted energy production from the plants that are currently offline to newer ones that will continue to operate until 2022. But the utilities had also hoped that the government would scrap the nuclear fuel tax it had introduced as part of an austerity package passed last year. The tax is intended to generate around €2.3 billion a year through 2016 for the government to help pay off its public debt. With the current closure of the eight plants, that sum is already expected to drop to around €1.3 billion annually, but it is a sum the Finance Ministry has refused to do without.
Berlin's nuclear exit strategy spells doom for the utilities. Atomic energy expert Wolfgang Pfaffenberger from Jacobs University in Bremen estimates that the eight plants that are being shut down this year generate annual profits of over €1.5 billion and revenues of at least €3 billion. All of Germany's 17 nuclear plants together generate around €4 billion in profits and €7.5 billion in turnover -- all revenues that will disappear by 2022 at the latest. more
Even the Russians don't want the Germans to give up their nukes it seems.
No German nuclear power means higher bills for all EU countries
Published: 02 June, 2011, 08:30
The shockwaves from Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant disaster have reverberated loudly in Germany. To such an extent that, despite the fact that atomic energy provides nearly a quarter of the nation’s electricity, the plug is set to be pulled.
But what price might both Germany and other EU countries have to pay for such a bold move?
Germany raises a lone voice in the EU to usher in a new era of non-nuclear power generation, as Chancellor Angela Merkel vows to close all its reactors by 2022. But it has already created a shortfall in electricity in Germany, which in turn is pushing up prices. Germany is now importing power from France and the Czech Republic – and it is the crisis-hit poorest who will pay.
Lobor Roucek, a member of the European Parliament from the Czech Republic, says that there is no doubt that “the higher electricity cost will quite understandably project into the prices” and it will be the consumers who will end up paying more.
Around 30 per cent of the EU’s electricity comes from nuclear generators so, ironically, the electricity Germany ends up buying will be generated at nuclear power plants.
The majority of European countries are not giving up their nuclear programs. Switzerland is phasing its out, but France, which has a long and successful history of nuclear power generation, sees it as a “solution for the future”. Britain, Sweden, Spain and Belgium are just some of the other EU countries that have nuclear capacity, and are not planning to get rid of it.
Closing down its own reactors will not stop Germany suffering from nuclear fallout in the event of an accident elsewhere in Europe. But the German Green Party is aiming high.
“We’re starting a campaign to make the whole of Europe nuclear free,” says Dieter Janececk, head of the Green Party, Bavaria.
But are they aiming at the wrong goal? The EU wants to generate 20 per cent of its electricity using renewable sources by 2020, and also to reduce carbon emissions. Nuclear power was a good way of bringing emissions down, but Germany will need to go back to its coal-fired power stations to make up the shortfall.
“In terms of climate policy, Germany with the EU is trying to reduce CO2 levels. If you switch off nuclear energy as an option, you have to turn to coal, which is a lot more polluting in that respect,” says Pieter Kleppe of the Open Europe organization. more

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