Fukushima’s costs for Germany

Coen writes*

In 2011 an earthquake shook the north east of Japan — an earthquake of such magnitude that the regular safety mechanisms in the Fukushima nuclear power plant needed to kick in. Some reactors shut down, but the tsunami caused by the earthquake damaged backup power generators, which lead to a cooling failure and an overheated reactor that released radioactive material. This nuclear disaster led Germany to immediately shut down eight of its nuclear power plants.

In Germany there is very negative view towards nuclear energy which had already led to multiple plans to phase out nuclear energy. In 1998 the German government had already planned the nuclear phase out, which was then reversed in 2009 by a new government that planned to keep nuclear power plants open until 2030-2035. Post-Fukushima, the government decided to end nuclear generation by 2022.

This new energy strategy puts a major focus on green energy. Germany needs to decrease their greenhouse gas emission by 40% by 2020 to mitigate climate change. Davis et al. [pdf] review the possibilities for the transition to a low carbon energy sector. They observe the energy transition could lead to problems since some energy systems are hard to move away from fossil fuels. These systems need a lot of energy, reliably delivered, which can be hard with renewable wind and solar energy subject to variation. Germany faces this problem and thus only generates small volumes of green energy.  Germany’s turn from nuclear to  lignite coal explains Germany’s failure to meet their CO2 reduction emission targets.

Nuclear energy could provide a stable source of energy, which lends Germany as a good subject for a cost benefit analysis. The analysis will compare the costs of closing nuclear power plants versus keeping them open. The analysis will consider several factors: health effects, CO2 emissions (cost of climate change), expenses for infrastructure development, political implications, and energy variability costs. In order to make the comparison between the scenarios of zero emissions with nuclear or without nuclear energy the energie transitie model can be used. The model could be used to identify changes in Germany’s CO2 output with a changing energy mix.

* Please help my Environmental Economics students by commenting on unclear analysis, alternative perspectives, better data sources, or maybe just saying something nice :).

Author: David Zetland

I'm a political-economist from California who now lives in Amsterdam.

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