Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A More Reasoned Approach

Getting rid of nuclear power sounds good on paper – at least if you’re of that opinion. But it appears that the economics of getting rid of nuclear power in Germany is going to be borne on the backs of ordinary electricity consumers as German industry lobbies for exemptions to higher electricity prices that will likely result if the country pursues its plan to shutter its 17 nuclear power plants by 2022.

Nicholas Comfort, writing for the Bloomberg news agency, says efforts are underway by German industry to get out of paying more for their electricity so they don’t have to pass those price increases on to customers – basically by making Germans shoulder the full load of predicted higher electricity prices themselves. Predictions show the electric bill for a German household of three could increase as much as $321 a year if the plants are shuttered in exchange for other electric-generating sources from solar to wind to coal power.

What’s ironic about the situation is that experts predict Germany will have to build more coal-fired plants – thus increasing the country’s carbon emissions – to meet baseload electric demand. The anti-nuclear lobby is apparently stronger than the carbon-emissions lobby in Germany, or else the environmental lobby in general is blind to the reality of nuclear’s carbon-neutral footprint.

I heartily agree that the disasters at Chernobyl and now Fukushima are dire and devastating. But taken into perspective with the long-term disaster of increased carbon dioxide buildup in the atmosphere, the anti-nukes are letting their fears of the nuclear boogeyman override reason.

Meanwhile across the border in Slovakia, a more moderate, more reasoned approach is being taken to nuclear power, per nuclearpowerdaily.com. There, nuclear provides about one-third of the nation’s electricity, compared to numbers in Germany which are reported by various news agencies to be between 17 and 25 percent. Instead of shuttering nuclear power plants, the Slovakian government is looking to tighten safety measures – the same reaction taking place in nuclear powerhouse France and nuclear advocate United States. I’m all in favor of looking at current safety protocols to see what can be improved upon. Leaving lessons unlearned from Chernobyl or Fukushima is as foolish as running away from the nuclear boogeyman entirely.

Nevertheless, if Germany can successfully build an energy culture on renewables that doesn’t include nuclear, more power to them if you can pardon the pun. At the same time, I’d like to see them solve the problem of paying for it all, and to answer the question: If subsidies to build nuclear plants are bad, why are subsidies to build solar or wind plants good? A subsidy is still a subsidy, whether it subsidizes an industry you favor over one you don’t. In the meantime, German electricity consumers on the residential level seem poised to pay most of those subsidies, with major German industries getting a waiver – and cheap electricity – on their backs. What’s good for the goose ought to be good enough for the gander.

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