While British Prime Minister David Cameron was donning hard hat and overalls at Hinkley Point, England, last month to announce the construction of the first nuclear reactor since the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant disaster, coxless fours were rowing silently past Krummel nuclear plant near Hamburg, Germany.
Kernkraftwerk Krummel, on the banks of the Elbe in the small town of Geesthacht, is one of eight nuclear power plants shut permanently in the country following the Fukushima meltdown.
Nine more, built relatively recently and which have unblemished safety records, will be shut by 2022 as part of Germany’s energiewende march from nuclear to renewables. A year later, if all goes to plan, Britain will switch on Hinkley Point C — two reactors built at a cost of ￡16 billion (US$25.51 billion) by France’s state-owned EDF, with funding from China.
“The Brits are crazy,” Claudia Roth, incoming deputy speaker of the German Bundestag and former head of the Green party, said in an interview. “How can one build new nuclear plants when all the world understood, or should have understood, that Fukushima was not an exception, but a part of the industry?”
“It is completely irresponsible. Fukushima proved that Chernobyl [nuclear meltdown in 1986] was not an exception unique to old Soviet plants, but a fact of the industry,” said Roth, who displays her green credentials by wearing a hat and a scarf to keep down the heating in her Bundestag office. “If Japan cannot even guarantee safety, it is totally irresponsible to build new plants. I don’t understand why Britain is doing this. You are an island, you have wind, you have sun, you have water, you have everything... Why the hell are they doing this? The government is really crazy.”
The nuclear industry, which supplied more than a quarter of Germany’s power before the 2011 shutdown, says the German government is crazy to be closing nuclear plants that cost billions of euros to build and have years of life left in them.
Closing the country’s entire nuclear fleet was first proposed in 2000 and due to take 20 years, but politicians had wrangled over that timetable. That was until Fukushima, when the government abruptly ordered shutdowns to start immediately and be completed within 10 years.
Nicolas Wendler of the German Nuclear Forum, the industry trade body, said the decision was “illogical” and “emotional rather than practical.”
“We are totally convinced that our nuclear plants are operated safely,” he said. “European Union stress tests show that German plants are among the safest in the EU. The arguments for the closure are not based on safety, it is political.”
Wendler said the shutdown was costing taxpayers billions. A green levy on energy bills has risen fivefold since 2009 — adding 34 euros (US$47) a year to the average German household bill. German energy bills are already the third-highest in the EU (UK bills are the 13th-highest out of the 27 member states).
The tax will bring in 23.6 billion euros of funding for the German government’s aim of producing 80 percent of electricity from renewables by 2050. Currently 23 percent of German electricity is from renewable sources, compared with 4 percent in the UK. The European Renewable Energy Council said the UK’s slow progress means it is likely to miss its target of producing 15 percent of electricity from renewable sources by 2020.