Japan’s recent nuclear catastrophe has been a cause of consternation for many, and the Germans are no exception. On May 30, Chancellor Angela Merkel announced the German government’s decision to phase out all nuclear power plants by 2022.
The plan comes as the result of the findings of a nuclear “ethics commission” established by Merkel in the wake of the Fukushima disaster. Opposition parties and some business leaders like Sigmar Gabriel of the Social Democrats and Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche initially expressed skepticism as to whether or not the German economy will be able to handle such a change.
The envy of Europe, it is understandable that German industry leaders are concerned about such a drastic shift. However, the Federation of German Industry came out in favor of the plan, although fears persist about the possibility of damaging power outages, and the costs that building a new energy system would have on manufacturing efficiency and production.
The public seems very much in favor of the shutdowns; in the days proceeding the government’s announcement massive demonstrations against nuclear power were held in 20 German cities.
Indeed, Germany’s decision could very well mark the beginning of a European “nuclear summer” as Scottish Nationalist MSPs cited Germany’s actions as further encouragement to switch all of Scotland’s energy to renewable sources within ten years, a more drastic measure than even Germany’s; Merkel’s plan keeps one reactor on “standby.” Scottish Conservatives criticized the plan, saying that complete dependence on renewable energy was extreme recklessness and could result in Scotland having to buy power from England.
Even the Chinese, who are in the process of building 27 new nuclear reactors to initiate a lengthy regulatory approvals process, substantially slowing down construction of the reactors, which account for 44 percent of new reactors globally.
The French are also becoming nervous. Last year, Germany exported energy to France, while this year, since the discontinuation of its reactors, Germany’s energy imports from France increased by nearly 50 percent.
Operating 58 plants of its own, France has nonetheless often imported German power during a drought, when hydroelectric power yields are lacking. French officials predict future difficulties in maintaining the delicate power balance now with Germany out of the gameIf Germany removes itself from the nuclear realm, it must seek an energy increase elsewhere; Chancellor Merkel has made it clear that a shift to other renewable sources is imminent.
Reuters reported that the coalition behind the plan is “sensitive to accusations it increases dependence on highly polluting brown coal and 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.”
The irony becomes clear. Chancellor Merkel and her allies, reacting to the Fukushima Daiichi incident, one that was riddled with regulatory issues and inadequate back-up systems, responded with the shutdown of a nuclear framework that is among the best in the world.
Economically, Merkel’s plan shows very little regard for the fragile economic health of Europe and socially, disregards the energy needs of German citizens with talk of highly expensive, highly inefficient energy sources like wind and solar power.
It is in Europe’s best interest, and indeed an advantage to the world, that Germany remain the cornerstone of European economic health. A reactionary and reckless switch to a non-nuclear energy system not only puts Germany and the world at risk, but sets a dangerous precedent for the rest of Europe.