Why closing nuclear plants in Germany is a "War on Rationality"

anti nuclear protests in Germany
© Sean Gallup/Getty Images

War correspondent Gwynne Dyer says they should worry more about carbon and climate change.

Gwynne Dyer, who usually is known for his books and articles about war and conflict, writes about a different kind of war that's taking place in Germany and Japan, what he calls the War on Rationality. That's what he calls the two nations' decisions to close their nuclear plants and keep burning coal.

Coal, as everybody knows, is by far the most damaging source of energy we use, in terms of both the harm to human beings and the impact on the climate. It’s twice as bad as natural gas, and dozens of times worse than solar or nuclear or wind power. Yet both Germany and Japan have been building lots of new coal-fired power stations. Why?

Would it upset you if I said it’s because they are, despite their apparent sophistication, superstitious peasants at heart? Well, go ahead and get upset.

pickering alert seen in torontoEmergency alert sent out accidentally, 12 January 2020/Screen capture

Strong words, given that there are lots of reasons not to love nuclear power plants in your backyard. They can be scary and it doesn't help when people accidentally send out emergency alerts like they did recently in Ontario, where I live.

Germany still gets more than a third of its energy from burning coal, and most of it is ultra-polluting lignite or ‘brown’ coal. If most of Germany’s seventeen nuclear power plants had not been shut down after 2012 (the last are scheduled to close within two years), then at least half that coal would not have been needed.

The nuclear reactor closures were triggered by the Fukushima 'incident', as he calls it, avoiding the words calamity or disaster because that was really the tsunami that was the disaster, killing 19,000 people, not the reactors themselves, which he claims have killed nobody. But then all fifty Japanese reactors were shut down, and they are only slowly re-opening; and in the meantime, they recently announced that they would be building 22 new coal-fired power plants.

This is deeply irresponsible behaviour, and the worst thing is that the decision-makers know it. They are just deferring to public opinion, which in this instance is entirely wrong. The ‘superstitious peasants’ should really be frightened of global warming, for which coal-burning is a major driver, not of relatively harmless nuclear power.

Dyer acknowledges that nuclear plants are expensive, take a long time to build, and there is strong case for not building any more of them.

But there is no case for shutting down existing nuclear stations and burning more coal to make up the difference. That is so stupid it verges on the criminal.

We don't have time for this

Bruce NuclearBruce Nuclear Power Plant/ Wikipedia/CC BY 2.0
It is such a difficult issue. I have made a similar point. The electricity supply in Ontario, Canada, where I live, is 94 percent carbon free, thanks to Niagara Falls and three big nuclear power plants built in the seventies and very expensively rebuilt starting in the nineties, and continuing to this day. Electricity is expensive in Ontario, mainly because of the C$38 billion in debt run up by the utility building and maintaining the plants. But they exist, and as I noted in a previous post about maintaining them while rejecting new nukes,
Living as I do in the Province of Ontario, I am thankful for the benefits of nuclear power that is carbon free. I am glad that they are continuing to fix the reactors that we have, even though it is expensive. This is probably good policy everywhere: Fix the nukes we have instead of closing them, they are a sunk carbon cost. But we shouldn't be wasting time talking about new ones. We don't have it.
Dyer concludes with a reminder about our rapidly diminishing carbon budget that is being eaten up by coal and gasoline:
But nobody is as crazy as the Germans and the Japanese, who have been shutting down nuclear plants and replacing them with coal-fired plants. France will close its last coal-fired station in 2022, and Britain will do the same in 2025, but Germany says 2038 and Japan just says ‘eventually’. That’s far too late: by then the die will be cast, and the world will be committed to more than 2 degrees C of warming.

Other voices agree.

Getty Images© Digging lignite in Germany/ Getty Images
Writing in the New York Times, Jochen Bittner of Die Zeit notes that the Germans are not doing much at all to develop alternatives to nuclear power. In fact, they are actively protesting against wind turbines and new power corridors from the coast to the cities.
According to official calculations, close to 3,700 miles of new power lines are required to make Germany’s “Energiewende,” or energy revolution, work. By the end of 2018, only 93 miles had been built.
Bittner notes that we have learned a lot more about the severity of climate change since 2012 when the decision was made to close the reactors, and that "Ms. Merkel recognized recently that 'climate change is happening faster than we had thought a couple of years ago.'" But nobody is changing their minds.
Naturally greenLloyd Alter/ seen in Prince Edward County/CC BY 2.0
Back in Ontario, everybody hates wind farms too, and the current idiot running the Province is pulling down turbines that are already standing. But at least we have nukes and Niagara. What are they going to do in Germany and Japan?
Why closing nuclear plants in Germany is a "War on Rationality"
War correspondent Gwynne Dyer says they should worry more about carbon and climate change.

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