In Europe, which gets an even greater percentage of electrical energy from nuclear power than does the United States, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, spooked by the Fukushima disaster in Japan, says she wants to shut down all her nation’s nuclear reactors by 2022.
Although Merkel tried to put a happy face on her decision, it probably bodes ill for her campaign against fossil-fuel reliance in Germany, elsewhere in Europe and in the U.S. We think the reflexive reaction against nuclear power is overwrought and undiscerning. History’s few nuclear disasters had more to do with deficiencies in emergency preparedness, as in Chernobyl in the Ukraine in 1986, and since-improved radiation protection and safety standards, in the case of Three Mile Island in 1979, than in any inherent dangers of nuclear power.
Nevertheless, a nuclear power moratorium, should it spread, could serve a good purpose. Decision-makers will be prodded by industry, consumers and power generators to realize that touted green alternatives are too expensive and too unreliable to fill the gap created by abandoning nuclear power, which is about 20 percent of U.S. energy. Merkel’s ruling coalition, “sensitive to accusations it may increase dependence on highly polluting brown coal, said it planned to cut power use by 10 percent by 2020 and further expand the use of renewables such as wind and solar power,” Reuters reported.
We suspect her politically correct posturing will collide with economic and political reality. Cutbacks in power use and increased reliance on more-costly, unreliable alternative sources will hold down economic growth and drive up costs.
Unless Germany, Europe and the U.S. desire to commit economic suicide by obsession with renewable energy, they must conclude fossil fuel will be with them into the foreseeable future. For those who want growth and prosperity, that is good news.
The Obama administration could be a bellwether. In his 2010 State of the Union speech, President Barack Obama called for “a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country.” Nuclear power was to help wean the nation off fossil fuels. Nuclear power has proven to work economically on massive scales. Windmills and solar cells have not, and certainly not without huge taxpayer subsidies.
The EPA, Congressional Budget Office and Energy Information Administration all assume creation of 100 new nuclear power plants over 25 years, making the Obama plan appear financially sound, while enticing political opponents to the president’s clean energy agenda.
But without economically viable nuclear generation, uneconomic renewable sources are all the more unpalatable. Political support also can be expected to wither.
“Obama’s strategy of buying votes by pretending to support nuclear ... has taken a big hit,” said Dan Kish of the Institute for Energy Research, “because it’s really hard to believe that Obama will stand up and say our technology is really good, and we can move forward.”
Chris Horner of the Competitive Enterprise Institute contends that without the nuclear component, the president’s inflated financial predictions won’t materialize, and fossil fuel industry backers will desert him.
All of this undermines the Obama war on coal in the name of combating global warming. Disasters sometimes bring unanticipated benefits. The Fukushima tragedy and a resultant shunning of nuclear power may save America the economy-killing consequences of a tax-subsidized, uneconomical rush to adopt unproven, unreliable renewable sources.