Germany and Italy Cancel Nuclear Power Plans in Wake of Japan’s Crisis

by , 03/24/11

europe nuclear power, no nuclear, German nuclear phase out, Italy nuclear, green power, smart grid,

The German government announced this week that it is accelerating plans to close its nuclear power plants, and Italy is following suit with a one year moratorium. The announcement comes in the wake of the severe nuclear situation in Japan that followed the earthquake and resulting tsunami, and it is a clear indication of how quickly the political winds have shifted on the issue. Italy had planned on pushing nuclear power by referendum, and Germany has 17 reactors which it now plans to replace completely with renewable energy. German Chancellor’s Angela Merkel minced no words when she declared the situation in Japan a “catastrophe of apocalyptic dimensions.”

europe nuclear power, no nuclear, German nuclear phase out, Italy nuclear, green power, smart grid

The announcements are an about-face for the two conservative governments and may pave the road for other nations around the world to make similar efforts. Italian Premier Silvio Berusconi’s Cabinet issued the one year moratorium after pushing to adopt nuclear energy as a way to reduce the country’s dependence on fossil fuel imports.

The German government has already shut down 7 older nuclear reactors for extensive inspections and it will now accelerate its plans for taking all of its plants offline (they originally planned to extend the plants’ life for another 12 years). The plants produce 23% of the country’s power, so efforts to cut nuclear energy out of the mix put tremendous pressure on Germany to accelerate its renewable energy and smart grid technologies.

Germany has made the most aggressive effort in the world to adopt renewable energy — it is aiming to run 40% of it grid using clean energy in 10 years. Cost estimates for the conversion are as low as 0.5 cents a kilowatt, but due to the complexity of predicting equipment cost and upgrading the grid it may be too early to have a realistic estimate.

One thing is for certain — the cost of nuclear energy has historically skyrocketed much higher than estimates for construction alone. AP reports that the only two European reactors currently under construction in France and Finland have nearly doubled in cost from original estimates. Nuclear fuel disposal is also a quagmire in which Germany has not been able to find a viable long-term solution. Japan’s 40 year old Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant reactor was still in operation in part due to the spiraling cost of building new plants. Of course, all estimates go out the window when a serious accident occurs — an accident that has now altered the debate about nuclear energy.


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  1. Dolores839 June 1, 2011 at 2:39 am

    We humans never learned to clean up after ourselves. Our waste is everywhere and in everything. The waste from nuclear power is just waiting to add to the general calamity we are ever willing to continue unchecked. Nuclear energy will never be safe if humans are in charge.

  2. SpecialFx March 28, 2011 at 2:24 am

    Andrew: the first thing said by Italian government after the Fukishima incident was “we’ll go ahead with our nuclear program”. Moratorium is inevitable and the real purpose was explained by Dieguito. Government still want a nuclear program.

  3. EricR March 27, 2011 at 10:45 pm

    @Andrew Michler, the issue of handling the waste is always going to be a purely political argument. France has been efficiently and safely managing their waste through reprocessing for some time now and there is even some limited reprocessing in the US (non-commercial). The politicos do not want to acknowledge the viability and common sense behind this because it will benefit a pro-nuclear stance which is unfavorable in some circles. The knee-jerk reaction that Germany and Italy have had will only make them more dependent on outside energy sources.

    It should also be stated that new reactor designs and technology include passive cooling and safety systems and consume fuel more efficiently which means that spent fuel coming out will be much less of a liability. The argument should not be that we should get rid of nuclear power, but that we need to be retiring our old faithful power plants and replacing them with new more safe and reliable plants of this current generation. I doubt that will ever be the cry of die hard solar/wind evangelists however.

  4. Marta March 27, 2011 at 9:32 am

    In Italy non yet! We will have a referendum on june.

  5. Dieguito March 27, 2011 at 4:29 am

    It’s necessary to clarify that Italian Government postponed Nuclear Plans, (maybe)to avoid a negative result of june’s Referendum. Referendum is proposed by politic oppositions against laws about nuclear plans and about Premier’s rescues by his processes.

    Now, by the emotive wave of Japan nuclear problems, it’s highly presumable that Referendum’ll get the quorum to be validated (50%+1 of electors which vote).

    And, if it gets the quorum, for sure the Oppositions votes will win, deleting Italian Nuclear plans and “save-premier” laws at the same time.

    Postponing nuclear plans for one year, means cooling public opinion’s emotion and fear for japanese disaster, and not allowing referendum to get quorum.

    Italy isn’t erasing anything about nuclear power. Government is simply (or probably) saving Premier by his processes…

  6. andrew michler March 25, 2011 at 8:58 pm

    @Caeman, nobody has addressed what to do with the spent fuel rods, something that is too often over looked or glossed over in the conversation. Germany clearly does not want to be stuck with the problem.

  7. caeman March 25, 2011 at 10:18 am

    I hope they discontinue airplanes and cars, next, because that is about as logical as discontinuing nuclear. Oh no, a 40-yr plant failed, with it’s 40-yr old technology! It is as if no one has actually read about the the new nuclear tech, smaller-is-better-and-safer stuff.

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