According to a March 23, 2011, article by Juergen Baetz, entitled “Germany Set to Abandon Nuclear Power for Good,” in RenewableEnergyWorld.com, the world’s fourth largest economy is ready to turn away from nuclear power as a way to generate electricity.
Please note that this was written just days after Japan’s nuclear disaster at their Fukishima Power Plant began, so at first this would appear to be a knee-jerk reaction, but no, this is something the German government has been considering for a while. The German people experienced radioactive particles drifting over their country from Chernobyl in 1986 when a steam explosion and fire sent 5% of the reactor core into the atmosphere. Something like that would be hard to forget.
Germany gets about 23 percent of it’s electrical energy from nuclear power, about the same proportion as the U.S., and had planned to phase out their nuclear plants over a 25-year period anyway, but the disaster in Japan has sharply accelerated their plans. They took seven reactors off the grid last week and discussed leaving the oldest reactors off for good. Germany is an exporter of electricity, so they have reassured their people that the “lights won’t go out.” The plan is to replace nuclear power with renewable resources, but this means that the cost of electricity in Germany is likely to go up.
However, according to the article, and I quote:
“Sticking with nuclear power would also have its costs and require public funds.
The only two new nuclear reactors currently under construction in Europe, in France and in Finland, both have been plagued by long delays and seen costs virtually doubling, to around euro4 billion ($5.7 billion) and euro5.3 billion ($7.5 billion) respectively.
The disposal of spent nuclear fuel is also a costly problem, but it has no set price tag in Germany because the government has failed to find a sustainable solution.” (My italics.)
And there you have it in a nutshell. They don’t know what to do with the nuclear waste, and neither do we. Neither do the Japanese. That’s why they had spent rods stewing in pools of water atop buildings. It must have been one of those things that “seemed like a good idea at the time.” But now what?
I used to discuss this drawback of nuclear power with my students, and in almost every class someone would suggest shooting the waste to the moon or deep space. Perhaps you’ve had that idea too, but no, that won’t work. Too expensive, and way too dangerous. What if a rocket loaded with high level waste were to explode on the way up? That would be very, very bad indeed.
No, we’re stuck with this highly radioactive stuff here on earth for thousands of years, and we’re producing more and more of it every day. The Germans, at least, are smart enough to recognize the folly of messing up our own sandbox, but are we? Please watch for my upcoming blog entry on our own disposal problems. I think you’ll be interested. People of Germany, good luck to you.