‘Be careful what you wish for’ goes green

When I was in Berlin last year, I wrote a story for Foreign Policy magazine about the comeback of nuclear power in Europe. Germany, the leader of the anti-nuclear movement, where strong majorities supported phasing out nuclear power, had just undergone a shift. The Merkel government had decided to prolong the operating life of the country’s reactors by an average of 12 years. Elsewhere on the continent, nuclear’s future seemed strong as well.

On March 11, 2022, six months after the story went to print, my thesis became completely obsolete. The Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan led the Merkel government to reverse course, shut down half the country’s reactors immediately, and pledge to phase out the remainder over the next decade. Environmentalists cheered the decision. It was a more definitive victory than they could have imagined last year.

Except maybe not. Both grounds on which German environmentalists pushed for the end of nuclear power now appear shaky. On the green front, the nuclear shutdown has already caused carbon emissions to increase by 25 million tons per year, since Germany’s replacing much of its clean nuclear power with dirty coal. But the biggest winner in the phaseout is nuclear power abroad, which now counts Germany among its best customers. No longer a net exporter of power, Germany is importing nuclear power from neighbors like France and the Czech Republic. And some of this power is coming from plants with a history of malfunctions, just across the German border. On the safety front, too, then, Germans are probably not better off now.

Which is all a long way of saying that I wrote a story for The New Republic on this topic that was published this morning. If you’re interested in a more thorough treatment of the subject, check it out!

Update: And right on cue, the Czechs are more than ready to take advantage, to the chagrin of their German and Austrian neighbors.

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2 Responses to ‘Be careful what you wish for’ goes green

  1. SLF says:

    Damned if you do, damned if you don’t– unintended consequences every which way!

  2. Yes, when you’re talking about power production on a mass scale, your first commenter has it right.

    I think we’ll better decisions about our energy future if we first understand our energy present. Producing electricity on a large scale is a very tricky business and I’m afraid the media and most of their “experts” have little real understanding how it is done. I’ve worked in the US nuclear industry over twenty years, and the reality of it is far different that what I see portrayed by opponents and advocates alike. (There’s plenty of both good and bad.) Rather than just complain, I wrote “Rad Decision”, a techno-thriller novel that gives an inside view of atomic fun without putting the reader asleep. It is available free online (with no adverts amd no sponsors). Just Google the title. As a bonus, it turns out the climatic event depicted in Rad Decision is a lot like Fukushima, oddly (and sadly) enough.

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