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Germany’s nuclear-policy flip-flop may blunt its edge

Germany’s decision to abandon nuclear energy is a monumental policy shift that might threaten the competitiveness of the German industry.

The country’s coalition government decided Monday to abolish all of its 17 nuclear reactors by 2022. Older nuclear reactors built before 1980, which have already been taken off the grid, will remain offline permanently. The remaining nine reactors will be phased out when they complete their life span of 32 years.

In 2002, Germany’s then center-left coalition enacted a law to phase out nuclear power. In a U-turn from this policy last autumn, the current center-right coalition government, led by Chancellor Angela Merkel, decided to extend the lifetimes of the country’s 17 reactors by an average of 12 years. This was based on the judgment that Germany would not be able to meet its power demand using only natural energy sources such as wind power.

The latest policy change ― only about half a year after the previous reversal ― spells out in black and white the profound impact the ongoing crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant has had on the German people. In local elections held after the Fukushima nuclear crisis started, the antinuclear Green party made huge gains while the coalition parties tasted defeat.

Nuclear power is a key energy source for Germany and accounts for more than 20 percent of the country’s power generation. To make up for the power shortage that will result from ditching nuclear energy, Germany plans to build additional thermal power plants for the time being and expand the use of natural energy sources in the long run.

But this envisioned course is full of uncertainties.

Wind-power generation, which Germany plans to boost, is concentrated in northern parts of the country, including the Baltic Sea coast. Building power transmission networks to carry the generated power to southern parts of the country will require massive investment. Natural energy sources could become more costly if implemented on a wide scale.

There are fears that the supply of natural energy sources could be unstable ― a problem peculiar to them.

That is why German industrial circles are worried that dumping nuclear power could blunt manufacturers’ competitiveness. Germany is a locomotive for the European economy. If German businesses lose their competitive edge, there are fears the entire European economy could be affected.

Germany can turn off the switch on its nuclear power because it can import electricity from neighboring countries not separated by sea. In fact, Germany already imports electricity from France, which relies on nuclear power generation for 80 percent of its power supply, and the Czech Republic, where old Soviet-type nuclear reactors still operate.

Although Germany has decided to abandon nuclear power generation, it will rely on electricity generated by nuclear power. The country is said to be still trying to sell its nuclear power technology. This is undeniably opportunistic.

The global trend is for many countries, including China and India, to turn to nuclear power to meet their growing energy demand.

Japan is an island nation, so its situation is different from Germany’s. Japan cannot import electricity from neighboring nations.

The most realistic option Japan has for maintaining industrial competitiveness is to use nuclear power plants by improving their safety.

(Editorial, The Yomiuri Shimbun)

(Asia News Network)
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