Friday, September 18, 2009

Germany's Nuclear Debate

The Economist; Nuclear Power? Yes Maybe
WSJ; German Challenger Gains an Edge
Energy Tribune; German Elections Reigniting Nuclear Debate; Emerging Nuclear Energy Countries

Germany, the world’s fourth largest economy and the European Union’s most populous nation, is set to hold its federal election on September 27, 2009. Some of the issues up for debate include how to handle the country's budget deficit and current economic situation, unemployment, executive-pay laws, Germany’s involvement in Afghanistan, and the future of the country’s energy sources, a particularly emotive topic. Currently approximately seventeen percent of Germany’s energy comes from renewable sources like solar and wind power, twenty-five percent comes from nuclear power, and about half comes from burning coal, a major producer of greenhouse gases.

In 2000 the Social Democrat Party voted with the Green Party to phase out the seventeen existing nuclear plants by 2020, halting construction of new plants and increasing investment in renewable energy sources like wind and solar power. Chancellor Angela Merkel, leading the Christian Democrat Union, along with the Free Democratic Party, has campaigned to revisit the 2020 phase-out law and extend the lives of some of the nuclear power plants until the country can make greater investments in renewable sources. This coalition argues that because all renewable energies within the country are subsidized, and investment in renewable energy storage and transmission is extremely expensive, cheap nuclear power is a necessary and vital bridge technology that will assist in the development of renewable resources.

The Social Democrats and Green parties, on the other hand, argue that nuclear power is an irresponsible energy source and the 2010 phase out deadline should prevail. This argument comes in the wake of two recent accidents in Germany that caused emergency plant shutdowns. This Social Democrat-Green coalition contends that if nuclear power investment were extended, investment in renewable sources would end. Supporting this party’s argument is the contention that renewable energy production might be the ticket to conquering the economic crisis. (See Spain Relies on Renewable Energy to Fight the Economic Crisis, a recent Center for International Finance and Development blog discussing the potential benefits President Obama’s stimulus package might bring to countries selling renewable energy).

Fifty-thousand people protested against Merkel’s nuclear power position earlier this month in Berlin, highlighting the intensity of the issue. Germany’s debate over nuclear power comes at a time when as many as 30 other countries are actively pursuing their own nuclear power programs. These countries, both emerging and developed nations, are likely to pay close attention to both sides of the debate.

1) Considering the great concern for non-proliferation and insurance arrangements relating to nuclear energy and waste, do you think countries embarking on efficient power programs should move straight to renewable sources?

2) What kind of power does a country assert in the global setting by being “energy efficient?” In a world of rising energy costs, has energy independence become as coveted as having a strong financial system or a powerful national defense?

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