Monday, February 15, 2010

German environmental minister wants quick end to nuclear

Things have really heated up over here in the past few days. Germany's Environmental Minister, Norbert Röttgen, came out saying that, if nuclear is a bridge technology, it has also got to reach the other shore quickly.

Fascinating stuff -- the rest of the coalition is now up in arms about his statement, but he is sticking to his guns. And with all of this talk about nuclear being a "bridge technology," Röttgen has done us a tremendous favor by taking this hoodwinking metaphor to its natural conclusion.

The basic idea behind nuclear as a "bridge technology" is that renewables are not ready yet. There seems to be a widespread consensus that power companies do not want to build any new plants; they just want to keep the ones they have up and running as long as possible -- a disastrous idea. I can't think of anything worse than leaving nuclear plants up and running until something actually goes wrong.

But proponents of renewables mainly fear the immediate effect: if all of this generating capacity is left online, and all of it has already been written off, then new technologies which could come online will simply not be able to compete. We are bringing prices down for renewables -- but nothing can compete with decades-old plants that have already been completely written off. The profits are expected to be around 400 to 800 million euros per plant per year.

Calling nuclear a "bridge technology" has therefore been a rhetorically clever way of saying, "We are for renewables, but renewables are not ready yet, so let's keep nuclear until you guys are far enough." The only proper response to this is, "Shut down your damn plants now and get out of the way -- we're coming through."

And now, a conservative environmental minister has effectively done just that.

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