Germany needs nuclear to meet emissions target

26 September 2007

Germany will only be able to meet its target of cutting greenhouse gas emissions if it keeps its nuclear power plants in operation, according to a study by the German Federation of Industry (BDI) and consultancy firm McKinsey.

The German government agreed in August to a plan to help reduce the country's carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 36% by 2020, compared with 1990 levels. However, the report said that reducing emissions by more than 31%, compared with 1990 levels, was "unimaginable" if the government continues with its policy to phase-out nuclear energy. Emissions reductions above 26% would be detrimental to the country's economy, particularly if the nuclear phase-out went ahead.

The BDI-McKinsey report says that, assuming the government adheres to its intention to phase out nuclear energy, Germany's total reduction potential based on emissions figures for 2004 is some 100 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year to 2020. This corresponds to a reduction of 25% of the base year (1990) emissions. A figure of minus 28% is achievable by 2030, the report says, if a considerable amount of investment is made.

The report - entitled Costs and Potential of Avoiding Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Germany - estimates the average cost of reducing Germany's CO2 emissions by 26% by 2020 at Eur20 ($28) per tonne. However, to achieve a higher reduction, the cost would rise to between Eur32 ($45) and Eur175 ($247) per tonne using today's technology due to the far greater need to use renewable energy in key sectors.

Delaying the nuclear energy phase out would considerably increase the economically viable reduction potential (an additional reduction of 90 million tonnes of CO2 until 2020) and would greatly decrease the average abatement costs.

Between 1990 and 2004, Germany reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by some 17%, from 1232 million tonnes to 1025 million tonnes CO2 equivalent (CO2e). Emissions from the energy sector fell from 397 million to 359 million tonnes CO2e during this period.

The BDI said it hopes the report will "lay a foundation stone for a process of increased cooperation between the federal government and society". It said it intends to produce a "revised edition" of the study which will evaluate progress made on implementing current findings.

Nuclear power plants generate about one third of Germany's electricity, but a coalition government formed after the 1998 federal election made the policy of phasing out nuclear energy under Green environment minister Jurgen Trittin. Currently, under a 2000 compromise, the operational lives of German power reactors are limited to an average of 32 years, although operators can apply to transfer generation time from lesser to more efficient plants. 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. Many similar power reactors in other countries are licensed to safely operate for up to 60 years. Now, the new coalition government formed in 2005 led by Angela Merkel is less certain of the inherited phase-out policy.

Further information

Bundesverband der Deutschen Industrie (BDI)

WNA's Nuclear Power in Germany information paper

 Merkel: German phase-out plans to stay
WNN: German nuclear phase-out limits carbon cuts
WNN: Merkel does not support nuclear phase-out