While Germany is shutting down its last nuclear power plants the rest of the world seems to move in the polar opposite direction; gearing up, strengthening and magnifying dependency on this actually very efficient power source. In the discussion about nuclear power plants there seem to be two strong opinions, a middle ground is nearly unrecognisable thus the anti-nuclear movement in Germany has been protesting since the early 1970s. But what makes nuclear power so unattractive for thousands of people in Germany when it is scientifically proven to be one of the most eco-friendly, in terms of carbon emission, and efficient energies that exist when properly functioning?
Slogans like “Only the risk is certain. Atomic power? No, thanks!“ are popular stickers up to this day in Germany, many of them hinting to the disastrous past of nuclear technology. Fukushima in March 2011 is one of them, where a tsunami flooded and damaged active reactors, leading 100000 of people to leave their home due to the high risk of radioactive exposure. Another example is Chernobyl in 1986, where inadequate safety procedures caused explosions and meltdowns leading to 28 direct and several thousand possible indirect cancer deaths. The Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Nuclear Safety and Consumer Protection in Germany states that “The nuclear phase-out makes Germany safer and avoids additional high-level radioactive waste. The risks of nuclear power are ultimately unmanageable. No insurance in the world covers the potentially catastrophic extent of damage from a nuclear accident,” portraying the responsibility that decision makers are having in creating and maintaining a power source as such. Who is responsible when something goes wrong? We have seen in past mistakes, both human errors and natural disasters, that the impact if things go wrong is nearly beyond comprehension, in short term and long-term effects.
Another argument is that power plants are expensive and long to build. Construction may take up from 5-10 years costing billions of dollars as well as security costs following up to this. Nuclear energy also counts to the nonrenewable energies. Power plants use U-235, an energy source that is not only very rare and expensive but just like coal or natural gases not renewable. Uranium, limited in quantity, has to be mined, synthesized and activated to produce energy. This process is expensive and not environmentally friendly. The process of mining of uranium leaves radioactive particles behind. Those may pollute nearby sources of water or can cause erosion which can be dangerous to human health and the environment.
The damage that nuclear energies generate doesn’t limit to construction and fuel supply but also to the nuclear waste that is necessarily produced. Amanda Beckrich defines for The Green Room in March 2013: „As the fuel (fissionable uranium, 235U) in the rods of a typical nuclear reactor decays, the concentrations of other dangerous radioisotopes rises (Botkin and Keller 2011). Long-term storage of these radioactive waste products, including isotopes of plutonium, iodine, and strontium, is a main concern with nuclear energy, as is safe operation of nuclear power plants. “ While everything is done to store nuclear waste safely, nuclear waste storage containers can, quite self-explanatory, only store nuclear waste. It takes thousands of years for high-level nuclear waste to decay, there is no solution for other kinds of disposal yet but storing nuclear waste. Lemke, German Federal Minister for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Nuclear Safety and Consumer Protection, sums it up: “Nuclear power supplied electricity for three generations, but its legacy remains dangerous for 30,000 generations.”
Many nuclear advocates highlight the importance and efficiency of nuclear energy. It is crucial for many countries in energy acquisition, no other energy source comes close to the energy density and reliability of nuclear energies. But if we cannot generate energy in a way that is more sustainable and less harmful to the environment, isn’t this a clear sign that we are living far beyond our means? Do we need to generate those huge amounts of energy instead of trying to use what is available to us without harming generations of humanity with nuclear waste? Instead of deciding to reduce and be conscious about our energy consumption, why are we maintaining and creating more to consume more?
“In the German context, the phase-out of nuclear energy is good for the climate in the long term. It provides investment certainty for renewable energy; renewables will be much faster, cheaper and safer than expansion of nuclear energy,” says Niklas Höhne, a professor the mitigation of greenhouse gases at Wageningen University in the Netherlands. Germany is trying to focus on wind and solar power though Germany mainly relies on imported gas and polluting energies such as coal or natural gas. In the short run the shutdown of nuclear power plants in Germany may increase CO2 emissions, in the long term the changes that are expected with the nuclear shut down are for the country to rely on green and renewable energies fully. It is a big and drastic step into the future but this is also very necessary for change.
“You need to think things through to the end” – Niehaus
Clean Energy Wire – The history behind Germany’s nuclear phase out
Environment. co – The pros and cons of Nuclear Energy
Natonalgeographic – Non renewable energy
Grenpeace – The global crisis of nuclear waste
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