That these ‘Atomkraft? Nein danke’ signs are so visible four decades after their creation is testament to the strength of the Germany’s anti-nuclear movement. Some put that down to the power of the Greens (at times over the past year the Party topped the polls), along with the legacy of Chernobyl. Whatever the cause, the movement has helped shape Germany’s energy policy. Not least the decision taken by Chancellor Angela Merkel back in 2011, in the wake of the Fukushima disaster, to speed up the closure of Germany’s nuclear plants. Since then, ten of its 17 nuclear reactors have shut down. It’s far from clear whether, in retrospect, this policy — which forms part of the broader Energiewende shift from dirtier energy sources towards renewables — was a success in terms of its environmental impact. As our Berlin correspondent Tobias Buck wrote, the decision has contributed to Germany’s continued heavy (at least by EU norms) reliance on coal and lignite. The evidence of the environmental and economic damage wrought by the decision has been mounting. A recently published National Bureau of Economic Research paper, The Private and External Costs of Germany’s Nuclear Phase-Out, claimed the costs go into ten digits. Before completely dismissing the decision to ditch nuclear though, it would be wise to ask how costly would it have proven to stick with it? Not just in the sense of the massive (though low probability) risk of another Chernobyl, but also the costs associated with waste storage. Could holding on to nuclear also lead to suboptimal investment in renewables? Sven Giegold, a German member of the European Parliament for the Green Party, claims so. The world is on the cusp of overhauling how it sources its power. Expect policy mis-steps and unintended consequences galore as officials grapple with the shift. Perhaps Berlin has carved a quicker, safer path towards zero emissions than, say, the much more nuclear-reliant French. But for now the jury’s out.
FT 6th Jan 2020 read more »