German nuclear phase-out limits carbon cuts

04 June 2007

The International Energy Agency (IEA) has warned that Germany's decision to phase out nuclear power would limit its full potential to reduce carbon emissions "without a doubt."

The IEA made the statement on the launch of its 2007 review of its summary of German energy policy. The agency publishes similar documents on policies in all its 26 member countries.

IEA executive director Claude Mandil praised German prudence on climate change, saying the country was promoting "sound, sustainable energy policy in Europe and around the world" through its presidencies of the Group of Eight industrialised nations (G8) and the EU. Nevertheless, he continued to say Germany was facing some key challenges in energy - one of which was the key issue of the nuclear phase-out.

Around one third of German electricity comes from nuclear, but the 17 reactors that produce it are scheduled for closure. A 2001 agreement between industry and the Social Democratic / Green government of the time effectively limited the lifespans of the plants to 32 years. Two reactors have already been shut down early, and although some generation time has been passed from older to newer plants for economic reasons, the agreement would eventually see all reactors shut down by 2015.

The plants were intended to operate for around 40 years, and in the USA many similar nuclear power plants have received regulatory approval to operate for up to 60 years. The most modern reactors being built today are designed to last 60 years.

A 2005 election saw a new coalition government formed, led by Angela Merkel of the Christian Democratic Union, which did not include members of the Green Party. There are a range of views on nuclear power within the coalition, which includes members of the C
hristian Social Union (CSU) and the Social Democratic Party (SPD).

The IEA said that eliminating nuclear from the supply mix would reduce supply diversity and increase reliance on imports - particularly of natural gas. It noted that while additional renewable generation and gains in efficiency would make up some of the generation gap, there would be greater reliance on carbon-emitting fuels. "Without a doubt," it concluded, "a phase-out will limit Germany's full potential to reduce its carbon emissions. The IEA urges the government to reconsider the decision to phase out nuclear power in light of these adverse consequences."

The IEA report follows a January analysis from Deutsche Bank, which warned that Germany will miss its carbon dioxide emission targets by a wide margin. Furthermore, said Deutsche Bank, the country would face higher electricity prices, suffer more blackouts and dramatically increase its dependence on gas imports from Russia as a result of its nuclear phase-out policy.

Further information

International Energy Agency

WNA's Nuclear Power in Germany information paper

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