EU Energy Commissioner sees no future for nuclear fission in Germany
The misreporting about Germany's Energiewende continues. This time, we address the expectations outside Germany that German politicians will one day reverse the nuclear phaseout.
International onlookers seem to believe that German politicians will once again reverse the nuclear phaseout a few years down the road (I had a conversation to this effect with an editor at Scientific American this week).
But this expectation is not limited to the US. At the end of 2012, a Greek website published a misleading summary of some statements made by EU Energy Commissioner Oettinger, himself a German. The website correctly quotes him saying that "we will still have nuclear power on the German grid in 40 years" in relation to Germany's European neighbors who will still have nuclear plants in operation – after all, Germany exports and imports power from all of its neighbors constantly.
But the Greek website misquotes Oettinger when it writes that he "also considers new nuclear power plants in Germany possible." The original interview in German reads much differently; before saying that nuclear fusion is "a type of nuclear energy that is currently making a lot of progress" and that "this technology may one day be accepted in Germany," he also says that "I think a return to nuclear fission is unimaginable in Germany."
So what does this mean specifically? Unlike Austria, Germany has not decided to forbid its grid operators from importing nuclear power, so there is no doubt that Germany will have some nuclear on its grid as long as it imports from any country with nuclear. But the share of nuclear will be small at that point. Furthermore, Oettinger overstates the progress being made in nuclear fusion research, which only hopes to a demonstration plant by mid-century, not anything commercial.
By the time the technology proves to be useful, Germany plans to have most of its electricity coming from renewables – a modest target compared to Denmark, which plans to go 100 percent renewable for all of its energy, not just electricity – so it is unclear what gap nuclear fusion will need to replace. But if the technology proves to be safe and inexpensive, Oettinger is right – Germans may well decide to gradually dismantle a lot of their solar panels and wind turbines, all of which can be removed and recycled without leaving noticeable traces. Too bad the same cannot be said for fossil fuel and nuclear fission. (Craig Morris)