MORE PROBLEMS FOR GERMANY AFTER QUITTING N-POWER
On April 15, Germany bade farewell to nuclear power generation for good by decommissioning its last three plants in addition to the 16 it already had closed down since 2003.
In Europe in the 1970s, the anti-nuclear movement linked up with forces opposed to nuclear power generation to spawn demonstrations that were colored with the ideological influence of the leftwing. The Green Party, born in Germany in 1993, is now a partner in the three-party coalition government led by Chancellor Olaf Scholz of the Social Democratic Party.
Following the disastrous accidents at Three Mile Island in the US and Chernobyl in Russia, in 1979 and 1968 respectively, the German government decided to forego nuclear power generation altogether. Although Germany leaned toward extending the operation under the administration of Angela Merkel, the catastrophe at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant in Japan in March 2011 caused Merkel to immediately shut down old plants and decommission Germany’s remaining nuclear plants by December 2022. The Scholz administration continued her policy, but the energy shortage and price hike triggered by the Russian invasion of Ukraine reportedly pushed the original deadline to April 2023.
A majority of Germans previously wanted all nuclear power stations shut down, but only 26% of them favored the action taken by Scholz this time around. YouGov, a UK-based global public opinion outfit, reported that 65% of respondents favored a continuation of operations, of which 33% called for permanent operation.
Against this backdrop, Scholz went ahead with the plan to quit nuclear power, declaring: “By 2045, Germany will realize climate neutrality and industrial innovation by practically eliminating all CO2 emissions by means of power from renewable energy.”
Germany will likely travel a rocky road as regards its future energy policy. Japan, which is investing a vast amount of money on renewable energy, ought to learn a lesson from Germany’s likely failure.
The three nuclear plants just shuttered accounted for 6% of Germany’s total annual power output. Although the German government hopes to supplement it with renewable energy, it will have to turn to coal-fired power generation, which accounts for 30% of its total output, for the time being. Power from fossil plants has increased by 8% a year, as gas imports from Russia were suspended following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last February. Now Germany must further turn to fossil power generation for the 6% that the three nuclear power plants have generated. Despite all this, it claims to be determined to completely do away with fossil power generation by 2038, with plans to cover 80% of its total output with renewable energy by 2030.
Key Mineral Resources in Chinese Hands
Scholz declared during a recent interview with the weekly Bild and Sonntag newspaper:
“By 2030, an average of four to five onshore wind turbines will be built each day.”
The plan to build “four to five” wind turbines, each measuring some 100 meters (328 feet) in height, strikes one as very ambitious. In 2022, Germany did indeed build a total of 551 mammoth wind turbines, but would it be at all possible to annually build between 1,460 and 1,825 of them over the next several years?
Most of the projected turbines are expected to be built offshore, and the costs are beyond anyone’s imagination. According to a 2020 trial calculation by the International Energy Agency (IEA), maintaining an existing nuclear power plant is believed to cost 3~3.5 US cents per 1kw/h, including disposal costs—cheaper than gas-fired generation (4.2~10.7 cents) or coal-fired generation (7.5~11.0 cents). With wind power generation, the cost difference with nuclear power generation is larger than with gas or coal-fired generation. Wind power generation requires higher costs to begin with. Also, implementation costs of German offshore wind turbines are estimated to be 35% higher than the European average.
Germany’s industrial power is expected to wane going forward, as indicated in an announcement by its leading chemical company BASF last October that it would “permanently shrink” its European operations because of the triple burden of sluggish growth, high energy costs, and over-regulation.
Georg Sachman, an energy expert at the Belgian think tank Bruegel, had earlier told Euronews that Germany’s countermeasures against climate change could not be accomplished without nuclear power generation, and that the nation’s energy situation would get tougher every time it does away with science and technology alternatives. The situation in Germany has developed exactly as Sachman predicted.
Leaders of the current German administration, from Scholz down, are seen to view a continuation of nuclear power generation as akin to a lasting dependence on Russian uranium, and at the same time fear that Germany’s international image would seriously decline if Germany were to continue trading with Vladimir Putin. Aware that it would have to rely on Russia to maintain nuclear power generation or on China if it were to lean toward wind power generation, Germany is caught between the devil and the deep blue sea.
Daishi Sugiyama, an energy expert at the Canon Institute for Global Studies in Tokyo, has called attention to the fact that renewable energy requires a vast amount of mineral resources and that China controls a significant chunk of those resources. Observes Sugiyama:
“To generate the same amount of power as crude oil, natural gas, or coal with wind or sunlight requires approximately 300% more minerals, including copper, 4,200% more lithium, 2,500% more graphite, 1,900% more nickel, and 700% more rare-earth, than now. Also, in replacing fossil fuel power generation, primarily coal, with solar and wind power generation, at least 1,000% more steel, concrete, and glass would be required. And the important point is that much of the afore-mentioned minerals indispensable in the production of solar panels and wind turbines are in China’s hands.”
Sugiyama warns that China’s share in the world decarbonation-related mineral resources market doubles that of OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) in the world oil market.
Recognize Differences between Japan and Germany
Clearly, Germany finds itself in a predicament. Scholz was the first Western leader to visit Beijing almost immediately after Xi Jinping paid a state visit to Russia March 21-23, giving the impression of consolidating an “alliance of evil” with Putin. Although Scholz, presumably afraid of impairing Germany’s international image, stayed in Beijing only 11 hours, his visit itself epitomized the fragility of Germany. The German leader had no choice but to appeal to Xi for an enhanced economic partnership with China, despite the fact that Xi supports “Putin the invader” and claims neutrality while refusing to condemn him for his war of aggression against Ukraine.
Japan ought to learn a good lesson from the anguish Germany will be grappling with going forward by first coming to grips with the differences between the two nations. Above all, we must never forget that Japan has among the world’s leading nuclear technology. If we can manage to complete the nuclear fuel reprocessing facilities now under construction in Rokkasho Village in Aomori Prefecture and start extracting uranium and plutonium, we will be self-sufficient with nuclear fuel without having to depend on Russia or China. It is therefore incumbent on Japan to solidly safeguard our superb nuclear technology for our own security under all circumstances.
It would be meaningless to oppose nuclear power generation in Japan with the same ideological stance which can be said to have controlled more than half of Germany’s nuclear power policy. China and Russia have been steadily resorting to nuclear power generation, with the former planning to ultimately increase to 200 the total number of its nuclear power plants from the current 51. Meanwhile, Russia has taken steps to export nuclear power plants to the Middle East.
The UK has lately started building its first nuclear plant in 35 years and is expected to set up a maximum of eight of them by 2030. France will build six new plants, while the Netherlands and Sweden are also ready to build new plants. Sweden, which moved to close down its nuclear plants following the Fukushima disaster and switched to renewable energy, reverted to nuclear power because maintaining its national standard of living was deemed impossible without nuclear energy. The principal purpose of any nation’s energy policy, including nuclear power, is to maintain the security of its standard of living and the stability of its industrial base. It is time for an all-out effort in Japan to safeguard and nurture our invaluable nuclear technology under all circumstances.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 1,046 in the April 27, 2023 issue of The Weekly Shincho)