photo by philippe leroyer (Flickr CC)

Since the earthquake and tsunami-induced meltdowns in Japan last year, nuclear power has experienced a significant dip in global popularity. In parts of the globe, anyway. Japan itself is currently nuclear-free in terms of energy production, with an ambitious plan to clean up its air and water as well as increase the development of renewable power sources. The East Asian economic powerhouse is home to 54 nuclear reactors, not one of which is online.

Public outcry in Germany following the events at Fukushima immediately resulted in 8 plant closures, with all remaining nuclear facilities to be closed by 2022. This phase-out was already a plan passed by the German Social Democratic-Green Party coalition back in 2002, but Chancellor Angela Merkel decided in 2010, despite large public opposition, to delay the plans by 10-15 years. After Fukushima Merkel announced a moratorium on that decision, most likely because her party was losing votes to the Greens.

So what have been the environmental and economic results of Germany’s move from nuclear? More coal (meaning more CO2 emissions)? More renewables? Economic downturn?

Here’s some statistics on what’s happened in 2011 (source – the Guardian):

  • Germany’s energy exports have dropped from 70TWh to 7TWh, still making them a net exporter of power
  • Energy consumption dropped by 5.3% due to increased efficiency measures and a mild winter
  • All this happened while Germany’s economy grew by 3%
  • 60% of lost nuclear capacity was replaced by renewables, which now make up 20% of the total electricity supply
  • Emissions fell by 2%
  • Though energy prices went up by 10-15% following Fukushima, they are now 10-15% below pre Fukushima levels

And the future?

Check out this excerpt from a press release by the German Center for Research and Innovation:

By 2050, Germany plans to be 80-95% below 1990 CO2 emission levels and to derive 80% of the nation’s electricity from renewables. In research and technology, the government’s High-Tech Strategy has identified climate and resource protection in power generation as one of its five key areas of focus. Several government-funded projects and initiatives, for example, aim to improve the effectiveness of organic solar cells, develop new energy storage technologies, and CO2 reduction concepts to achieve the High-Tech Strategy’s objectives by 2020.

The UK on the other hand, has reacted to Fukushima by planning to build more nuclear reactors (or at least extending the life of old ones), rather than shutting them down. Other nations planning on constructing new nuclear power facilities include Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. But according to the Financial Times, it is China who will be bringing out the big guns with 14 reactors currently operating, 25 under construction and ‘dozens more in advanced planning’

Kind of puts things into perspective, doesn’t it?

About The Author: Graham Land

Greenfudge editor and London-based writer Graham Land grew up in the suburbs of Washington, DC, where he was part of the local hardcore punk scene, playing in several bands. Through this musical movement he became involved in grass roots interests such as anti-racist activism, animal rights and Ecology. In 2000 he relocated to Europe, eventually earning an MA from Malmö University in Sweden. He has also lived in Japan, Ireland, Portugal and Greece.


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