When taking the train across Germany, one is bound to see rustic little towns, endless fields, small brooks and beautiful bridges… and hundreds of wind turbines and rooftops covered with solar panels. The view says a lot about the German love for renewable energy, and the enthusiasm with which the country wishes to preserve its natural heritage for the younger generations is truly enviable. Therefore it is quite mindboggling that Germany still insists on using coal as one of its main energy sources, as nuclear power is being demonized as a backfiring weapon that could potentially destroy the whole nation.
It’s true there is always a risk involved with nuclear power and thus the German nightmares of a nuclear disaster aren’t quite irrational. However, we already have years of experience on nuclear power and the security measures that are required; with Germany’s mad obsession with regulations it is difficult to imagine a country that could manage the delicacy of nuclear power better than Germany.
Germany’s decision to abandon nuclear energy contradicts the country’s green policy. After the nuclear disaster in Fukushima in 2011, the Bundeskanzlerin Angela Merkel threatened to permanently shut the remaining power plants while simultaneously cutting the country’s CO2 emissions by 40%. All of this is to be done by 2022 and it seems very unlikely Merkel will succeed in her goal due to CO2 emissions caused by the country’s dependence on coal that has replaced the nuclear power plants. Nuclear power, as compared to coal, creates much more energy while leaving little, yet long-lasting, impact on the environment. The CO2 emissions caused by nuclear energy: nil.
That is not to say nuclear power doesn’t create some unwanted by-product: the radioactive waste has been the cause of some headache to Germans in the past as no state wishes to participate by storing of them. However, most of the Germans aren’t too enthusiastic about living next to a lignite plant either, although whether or not one is to be build in your neighbourhood is usually only considered a stroke of bad luck. A nuclear plant, on the other hand, is something that can still be protested, as there are numerous places in Germany where one could be built.
The difference between radioactive waste and the waste caused by coal plants differs in the way that nuclear waste can still be stored until a satisfying solution can be found. Nuclear energy will only be used to support the renewable energy sources until they can supply enough energy on their own. The emissions caused by coal plants, however, evaporate directly into the atmosphere and the negative effects are immediate and irreversible.
Then to add more fuel in the fire, France has been struggling to loosen its grasp on nuclear power to the horror of Germany’s nuclear-phobic people. Although Germany might succeed in its attempt to dispose of its power plants, the plants in France would still present themselves as a risk for the German population. This raises the question of why Germany, who is already being exposed to the risks, should not try profit as well. Instead of emitting gases that will probably cause irreparable damage to the atmosphere, Germany refuses to take the risk despite the probability of a disaster being diminishingly small.
During the last few years the number of “Atomkraft – Nein Danke!” –stickers have considerably decreased in the German cityscape. Perhaps the discussion on Germany’s energy policy is being considered officially closed, at least until the end of Merkel’s reign. But if Germany wished to continue on this course, it may have to give up its reputation as one of the most advanced countries when it comes to maintaining a green economy or, alternatively, consider an energy import to compensate for the otherwise impending power shortage. It’s high time to reopen discussion of nuclear energy.