Germany gives up atomic energy

Boguslaw Kowalski

The damage of the nuclear power plant in Fukushima, Japan, and the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl tragedy reminded us of the possible negative large-scale effects of nuclear energy. They also influenced the public opinion in the whole world. They evoked the biggest political repercussions in Germany. For the first time in Germany’s history the Prime Minister of Baden-Wuerttemberg, one of the most important lands, became a representative of the Green Party and the Christian Democratic Union lost power for the first time in 58 years. Under the pressure of unambiguous social expectations the ruling Christian-liberal coalition decided to give up entirely nuclear energy by 2022. This decision is uncomfortable for the authorities in Warsaw because recently they have announced their intention to build the first nuclear power plant in Poland.

Return to conventional and renewable energy

The decision to resign nuclear energy assumes gradual shutdown of 17 plants. In the first phase eight oldest plants (three in the north and five in the south) will be closed. One of them will be kept in a ‘standby’ mode for some time in case of lacks of energy. The next six plants will be closed in the years 2014-2021. And the last three will be shut down by 2022. Thus Germany will be free of atomic energy. Now all the plants supply 23% of the whole energy production. The eight plants planned to be closed first supply 11%.
This shows that the decision is courageous. It can threaten the energy safety and can be connected with the risk of considerable increase in energy prices. Despite that it has a big social support that can decrease only when people are to pay higher bills. Only representatives of the German industry are protesting, raising the argument of permanent loss of competitiveness. Choosing this solution the government of Angela Merkel conducted wide social and political consultations. Thus they shifted some responsibility in case of problems and changes of social mood in the future.
The costs of the total withdrawal from nuclear energy are unspecified. According to various estimates they can oscillate between 20 and 80 billion euros in the next ten years. They will be covered from a special nuclear fuel tax and additional fees allocated for the development of renewable energy sources and to some extent from the increase in energy prices for industry and individual receivers.

The significance of gas and renewable energy is increasing

Nuclear energy is to be replaced by the traditional methods of producing electricity from coal, and especially from gas since it emits much less CO2. And that causes a growth of the collaboration with Russia with which recently Germany has been joined by the North Gas Pipeline on the bottom of the Baltic Sea. A liquefied natural gas terminal in Wilhelmshaven will be probably built. Our planned gas port in Swinoujscie may also benefit from that provided it is constructed quickly.
An intensified development of renewable energy sources and low emission technologies is planned. Their share in the general energy balance is to increase from the present 17% to 35% in ten years. Especially big wind farms, sun energy collectors and biogas plants will be enlarged. These ecological technologies are to be the basis of energy supply for local communities, limiting their demand for energy from other external plants. Shortages will be met by import from neighbouring countries, which creates extra chances for Poland if we, of course, have surpluses.

Polish dilemmas

The German decision evokes serious repercussions for the neighbours. Since it announces a change of the energy policy of Berlin within the EU. The other member states will certainly press on giving up nuclear energy. The liquidation of nuclear plants in the territory of our western neighbour does not guarantee total security in case of some catastrophe somewhere in Europe. The case of Chernobyl, where the consequences of contamination were felt in distant places from the damaged plant, is a good illustration. It is very likely that using its position, strengthened by the Treaty of Lisbon, the German government will strive to impose through the EU rules exorbitant safety norms in nuclear plants to make them unprofitable.
One can also expect bigger financial support from the EU budget for the development of renewable energy sources and networks to transmit such energy. Ecology-oriented Germany will demand even bigger limitations of CO2 emissions, which would mean a serious conflict of interests with our politics. Basing her energy on coal Poland wants to reduce the exorbitant plans in this field. During the last meeting of the EU ministers of environment our representative blocked the decision concerning an 80% decrease in gas emissions by 2050 (a 40% decrease by 2030 and 60% by 2040), appealing to European solidarity and bigger understanding for our conditions. But in the light of the new situation of Germany when the final voting is conducted lonely Poland will not be able to stop that.
One should take into account that the decision to construct the first nuclear plant in Poland, to be located close to our western border (ca. 200 km), will evoke even bigger protests in Germany. One should not scorn what happened earlier in Chernobyl and currently in Fukushima in the context of threats for the Polish society. Realising that the new – after the autumn elections – Polish government will face the dilemma whether to struggle against this tendency or whether to direct the billions needed for the atomic plant immediately for the modernisation of coal energy production and development of renewable energy sources. Perhaps the experiences with geothermic energy and search for shale gas will soon bring the answer to the question whether Poland can develop effectively and safely without atomic energy…

"Niedziela" 28/2011

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: