October 25, 2004

Phasing out nuclear power in Germany

Late last year, Germany announced the closing of their Stade nuclear reactor, the first of its total of 19 reactors that it plans to permanently shut down as they come to the end of their operating life.

Nuclear power provides over 30% of Germany's electricity and does not officially contribute to global warming (its huge emission of water vapor isn't counted, only the absence of carbon dioxide and the other officially recognized greenhouse gases), so replacing that energy source is a major challenge. Germany is aggressively pushing conservation and efficiency as well as renewable-energy sources such as wind, solar, and biomass.

Although no news article or official statement says anything like it, advocates of utility-scale wind point to Germany's huge installed capacity (one third of the world's total) as the reason Stade was able to be shut down.

Ignoring the more significant changes in Germany's energy use patterns, let us suppose the claim was indeed so. The 672-MW Stade plant represented just over 3% of Germany's total nuclear-powered capacity (less than 1% of their total electricity use). When it was closed down, Germany had about 14,000 MW of wind-power capacity installed. To close down the rest, they would need 430,000 MW more!

Dangerous as nuclear power is, replacing 19 such facilities with several hundred thousand 300-400-foot-high wind towers is not an attractive alternative.