11 Mar 2021, 14:21
Benjamin Wehrmann

Germany right to stick to nuclear exit despite revival plans abroad - media comments

Süddeutsche Zeitung / Handelsblatt / Frankfurter Rundschau / Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

On the tenth anniversary of the Fukushima nuclear desaster, a majority of media commentators in Germany praised the country's decision to exit the technology for good. Nuclear power may be gaining new advocates and investors around the world due to its potential role in enabling a climate neutral economy, but the technology's days are numbered, Christoph von Eichhorn writes in the Süddeutsche Zeitung. "When the devastating wave hit Japan's shores and destroyed the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear plant, it hit a technology that  was in decline already – even without having experienced three nuclear meltdowns at once," von Eichhorn argues, adding that the global nuclear power share reached a peak at around 17 percent in 1996 and has declined ever since to around ten percent today. Almost no country announced a nuclear exit after the disaster, but it led to higher regulatory hurdles, tighter safety measures, and cost increases that make the technology less and less profitable, von Eichhorn adds.

The Fukushima disaster was a "beneficial shock" for Germany, Jürgen Flauger writes in business daily Handelsblatt. "Germany decided to leave nuclear power for good and fully subscribed to the energy transition. Ten years on, a lot has been achieved already," he argues, pointing out that renewables look set to cover about half of the country's power supply when the last nuclear plant is shut down at the end of 2022. Fukushima helped Germany to "return to a healthy rationality in energy policy,” as the energy transition is no longer questioned per se and debates mostly concern how it is implemented, he argues. Fukushima highlighted the need to reconcile supply security, profitability and sustainability in energy policy, which in the end also paved the way for Germany to initiate the coal exit, and prompted nuclear power operators to truly adapt their business model to the new energy world, he says.

Joachim Wille of the Frankfurter Rundschau wrote that the second nuclear disaster after 1986, when the reactor of the Chernobyl plant in today's Ukraine went into meltdown, showed that even a modern and advanced society is vulnerable to nuclear power's risks. But the initial international shock seems to have faded, and many countries are again advocating nuclear power, even if it comes in the modified form of small modular reactors. "The main problem is: a new debate about the pros and cons of nuclear reactors takes precious time that the world cannot afford to spend," he argues. Climate change won't give governments the time to test and implement new nuclear technology at scale, and the question of final storage remains unresolved. "The bottom line is how much greenhouse gases we can save with each euro, dollar or yen. And nuclear power by now has become the worst of all alternatives in this respect."

But others argued that Germany's decision in the wake of the disaster to reverse earlier plans to postpone the nuclear exit was a mistake. "Some governments and scientists regard nuclear power as a means against global warming," Christian Geinitz writes in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. New nuclear reactors are being built in 19 different countries ten years after Fukushima, "and there are good reasons for that”, Geinitz says. The carbon footprint is much better than that of fossil fuels and their power output more stable than intermittent renewables, he argues. "This means fewer of the controversial transmission lines that transport power from Germany's windy North to industrial centres in the South and West of the country have to be built." Of course, nuclear power comes with risks, Geinitz concedes. "But a society has to weigh the dangers, as with any other technology," he says.

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