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Nuclear power is only cheap for the industry

The Local · 27 Aug 2010, 16:11

Published: 27 Aug 2010 16:11 GMT+02:00

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Atomic energy = cheap power!

That pretty much sums up the mantra of proponents of extending the lifespan of Germany’s nuclear reactors. They claim consumers will end up footing the bill if the country’s ageing atomic power plants are phased out as planned. “Energy cannot become a luxury item,” says Economy Minister Rainer Brüderle from the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP).

It’s an argument that’s easy to sell to the public. It speaks directly to average citizens, seems pretty plausible and is easy to explain: Renewable energy is expensive and has to be subsidised, whereas nuclear power doesn’t.

But that’s the thing with such political debates – the argument doesn’t hold up under closer scrutiny. Electricity in Germany isn’t particularly cheap. In theory, the German power market has been liberalised since 1998, but there is little true competition. The four large atomic energy firms produce around 80 percent of Germany’s power. This market dominance keeps consumers from profiting from economically produced nuclear power.

If the lifespan of reactors is extended, it will merely cement this dominance – likely leading to higher prices. On the other hand, systematically taking nuclear power plants off the grid would provide openings for potential competitors. Many municipal utilities have already prepared for the nuclear phase-out by investing in renewable energy. Keeping reactors running longer will snuff out their chances before they even get started.

A rapid conversion to renewable energy would have the added benefit of hindering a market-dominating concentration of power production. In the future, electricity creation will be more decentralised and there will be a greater number of providers. Proper competition ensures lower prices and hinders companies from developing a market monopoly.

Opponents of subsidising renewable energy should also realise that the atomic energy industry received €165 billion in support from 1950 to 2008 – including €65 billion in tax breaks alone. This is the only reason nuclear power can be produced so cheaply. But virtually none of this huge subsidy has been passed on to consumers.

Surely executives at EON and RWE, unhappy with the government’s plans to make them pony up for renewable energy, can explain the reasons for this to Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Story continues below…

This commentary was published with the kind permission of ZEIT ONLINE, where it originally appeared in German. Translation by The Local.

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

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Your comments about this article

00:26 August 28, 2010 by ibykus1981
This article is total rubbish, although some of the facts may be true. The method of argumentation leaves out several important points. 1, the so-called renewables are a fraud, because they are simply not economically viable. The second argument, I do not see the Energie Einspeiserungsgesetz mentioned, where the price of electricity is also held artificially high, by the government, which, while not setting a direct electricity tariff, to my understanding, is adding to the price of electricity directly in order to fund these fraudulent "renewables". Nuclear is the only true renewable, as it creates new fissionable material as it burns.

Second, the question of "market monopoly" is one that has to be smashed. Energy, just like food, has to be regulated properly. We may have private companies running things, under fair contract from the government, and the government may ensure true free competition, which means real regulation, or the government may form an agency to do this job, whereby it is not their to make profit, just like it is not there to make profit in providing safe, clean water, but instead the price shall reflect the real cost of production. This is the cheapest and best way to deal with infrastructure. It is the way that has always worked. The idiot writing the article thinks that electricity is a convenience, another convenience I might use as a comparison is a dishwasher. Conveniences are very helpful, but not necessary to the basics of modern human life. Electricity must be there on a constant basis and cheap enough that everyone can afford it. This whole fraud of renewables is quite destructive to a future for humanity.

If anyone wants to tell me about an energy mix, I know the arguments, and they are absurd, so please think before replying. I will happily answer any serious argument.
02:17 September 2, 2010 by Der Grenadier aus Aachen
The only thing this article tells me is that we need to build more nuclear reactors in order to increase competition.
08:30 September 9, 2010 by ReaderX
Yes indeed build more reactors. Increase competition.

Ohh and tell the government to keep their hands out of it.

That would help a lot.
15:22 September 11, 2010 by Talonx
The problem is that only a few firms (the four mentioned) would be responsible for new reactors, so the situation would not change.

I said with Smith's Wealth of Nations on this issue, corporations are a bad idea.

As for the energy mix arguments, a time will likely come 100-1,000 years from now, when we have used up all nuclear and non-nuclear fuel reserves. If it's not a reality today, but it will be someday. If we do not fix this problem now, we simply pass the buck to our children, we need to stop with the nonsense and put serious money into not leaving our ancestors with nothing.
13:12 September 13, 2010 by Rhinob
Wind and solar will not support industry. Therefore nuclear power is the only "carbon neutral" viable option. CO2 is a non-issue and not pollution, but you will see government science continue to support it in the name of taxes and wealth redistribution to non-producers.
14:44 September 15, 2010 by Canadianhaggis
The problem with nuclear reactors is the coolant used. Heavy water or sometimes molten salt that keeps the reactor cool becomes radioactive and has a life of over a thousand years. the coolant needs to be changed every year and the millions of liters of this coolant has to be stored in lead containers for that period. Thats a lot of radioactive waste.year after year after year .............
10:22 September 16, 2010 by recherche
Seeing the picture of the old-style reactor reminds one of the recent publications describing the latest developing technology. The two models were both being developed in the Far East using quite different technology. What they had in common was that they were comparatively very small and they were safe. They are small enough that they can be half buried. Being small, they supply power to a discrete metropolitan district. My main point, I suppose, is that the technology has made great progress from the Three Mile Island and Chernobil days. I wonder how many wind turbines equals one of these new plants [assuming the wind blows all the time]?
15:31 September 16, 2010 by T.J. Morton
Sorry @Canadianhaggis, but your assertion that the coolant is changed once a year is false. The only way coolant is lost is by evaporation, and the amount of water that evaporates is replaced. In addition, the primary radioactive element in the cooling chain of a CANDU (heavy water reactor) is tritium with a half-life of a little over 10 years, nowhere near the 1000s of years you claim.

There are no molten salt, commercial reactors in operation. So there is no radioactive salt to store.
03:44 September 18, 2010 by ron1amr
The big issue I see is although we all know nuclear energy runs clean. But there is no mention of what happens to the spent energy, cooling ponds which require a lot of water. Burying the waste 500metres underground and monitor. Each industry should set up their own renewable energy not requiring nuclear power plants. Every construction built should be renewable. An education should be set in place and a full tour of a power plant from beginning to end should be implemented. That way a full picture and perspective can be put in place. Type Yucca mountain in a search and you see that it has not been closed because up to date they can't do it in a safe way. And with wind farms solar thermal etc there will not be this problem.
09:53 September 18, 2010 by Talonx
The big issue is that we live, unfortunately, in a world in which people are worried only about short term profits. In such a world, people categorize their spending the same way they categorize public works (or what should be public works). This leads to a situation in which there is only finite spending available.

For energy this means that money spent on Research non-renewable, nuclear enery, is pulled or cordoned off from renewable research.

Other issues concerning storage, are troubleing, especially considering how it's been done up to this point. Issues concerning the cost are also quite worrisome, considering that only a very few companies own all the reactors worldwide, leading to a monopoly situation of undefensably idiotic proportions.
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