While some countries already had banned the use of nuclear fission energy because of its radiation hazards, the March 11, 2011 disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in northern Japan has added two more nations to this list.

Germany and Switzerland have joined Austria, Australia, New Zealand, Italy, and Norway. In the last month Germany and Switzerland announced they will close existing nuclear facilities over the next decade and are banning the construction of any new facilities.  Italy, which prior to Fukushima was considering removing its 1987 ban on nuclear power, voted overwhelming to maintain the status quo in a referendum this month.

Being strong supporters of international climate change treaties, the dilemma for these countries is to find an alternative secure, reliable, affordable, carbon free base-load power source to replace the nuclear plants.  Otherwise they could face serious electricity shortages a decade from now.  This would be a huge blow to Germany (the manufacturing powerhouse of Europe) and to the continent as a whole at a time when it is facing it most serious economic crisis since WWII.

Germany will close its 18 plants by 2022. Together they account for about 1/4 of Germany’s electricity. The remainder  of its electrical needs is generated  by high carbon-emitting coal (60%) and 15% clean renewable energy.   If Germany elects to go with coal or natural gas, this will hinder its ability to meet its promised CO2 emissions targets, particularly since carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology is in its infancy.  Moreover, most German states do not want CCS storage facilities fearing their potential negative environmental effects.

Russia is eager to supply all of Europe with its natural gas now that it has eclipsed Norway as the largest supplier in the region. This has 80 million Germans nervous knowing that the Russians have cut off gas supplies to the Ukraine in the past over payment disputes.  In the winter of 2009 a shutdown caused shortages in several European countries during a cold spell, showing how much Europe is dependent on the whims of Russian Prime Minister Putin.

For Germany every option carries risk. Nuclear and coal CCS (also expensive) are seen as unsafe, wind is too expensive, and natural gas emits significant quantities of carbon dioxide and adds geopolitical concerns.

Most analysts predict that Germany will likely go the tried and true fossil fuel route and build a mix of new coal and natural gas plants and rescind  its CO2 commitments for the next decade.  Solar and wind, being intermittent, are unreliable base load power sources until more efficient electrical storage technologies are discovered.

Switzerland also announced a complete moratorium on nuclear power in May and will phase out its 5 reactors by 2034.  Currently the country obtains 39% of its electricity from nuclear and 56% from hydro power. The Swiss government said the nuclear facilities would be replaced by reduced energy consumption,  hydroelectric power, renewable energy and natural gas plants.  Switzerland’s small land area however could be the source of obstacles on the way to boosting renewable energy such as hydro, wind or solar power.  It is widely expected that the Swiss voters will have the final say on the issue.  Unlike, Germany, Switzerland is and will be almost entirely CO2 emission free.

Meanwhile, the 27 countries of the European Union have agreed on the basics of a stress test to determine the safety of the EU’s 143 nuclear reactors.  The tests began this month and will have three parts: a “pre-assessment,” in which plant operators fill out a questionnaire and provide additional documentation; a review by national regulatory agencies to verify that their answers are credible; and a peer review, carried out by a multinational, seven-member team, of the national reports.


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1 Comment on The Fallout From Fukushima: Germany and Switzerland Abandon Nuclear

  1. Good detail on the European nuclear power scene.

    With the exception of Australasia I don’t expect nuke plant opt-outs in the rest of the world. In China, India, and other fast growing economies, quite the opposite.