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Germany Is Burning Too Much Coal (www.bloomberg.com)
198 points by adventured 4 days ago | hide | past | web | 220 comments | favorite

The emergency move away from nuclear has been incredibly short sighted. I understand not wanting to build new reactors, but shutting down running reactors, with all the capital investment involved, just doesn't make any sense. Especially when there is little risk of natural disasters in Germany.

If people are serious about maintaining the same quality of lifestyle that we have today without burning as much coal, the current solution is Nuclear Energy. Yes it does pose many risks but so does burning coal, and the latter seems to be destroying our environment.

This reminds me of a comment by quotemstr a few days ago about the housing supply 'debate,' where the absurdity of pretending that supply and demand somehow doesn't apply to the west coast reality distortion field is called out. The math behind energy is very simple and any honest person that chose to deal in realities understood that by EOLing their nuclear supply Germany had only more fossil fuel or severe economic decline as possible futures; renewables can not make up the difference then, now or in the foreseeable future, no matter how hard we wish it could.

Yes, I know: Chernobyl. That's a cop out. Germany need not be governed by hysteria. The difference between Russian/Soviet incompetence and the results we see from France, Ontario and other well governed and highly successful nuclear systems is vast and decisive and could have provided Germany's 'leaders' with the ammo they needed to do something other than indulge anti-nook hysteria.

But that's not what happened... so burn coal instead.

We've seen severe problems and gross negligence in American, French and Dutch reactors, as well. Oh, and in German ones, of course. And let's not forget about Japan who must certainly be counted among the "well governed and highly successful" ones. The examples are legion.

I do understand that less nuclear means more coal and that this is a difficult decision.

But nuclear fans claiming that the problem with nuclear reactors is just "stupid Russians" disqualify themselves immediately.

> We've seen severe problems and gross negligence in American, French and Dutch reactors, as well. Oh, and in German ones, of course.

Have we? The problems aren't just in Russia, but they're drastically less bad than Chernobyl.

Three Mile Island was essentially a worst case for internal meltdowns, and didn't involve any actual radiation release. Fukushima was vastly worse, but the problems revealed were remedied at similarly-designed reactors worldwide. (And most of those weren't nearly so exposed to severe storms.)

I'm honestly not sure what you're referring to with French and Dutch reactors, I'll have to look into that.

But overall, most of the things profiled as "severe problems and gross negligence" appear to have caused zero fatalities and zero radiation release. I know organizations like Rolling Stone have been running accounts of how the NRC is terrible and American nuclear plants are in crisis, but the problems raised don't actually amount to radiation risks.

I've never seen a convincing claim that the examples of actual release or meltdown risk, as opposed to mere sloppy management, are 'legion'.

> more coal and that this is a difficult decision

10,000 fatalities from coal per year in the USA alone. I agree that there's a tradeoff here, but I honestly have no idea why it's 'difficult'. Even the Chernobyl disaster is going to kill fewer people than coal kills when everything goes according to plan.

> But overall, most of the things profiled as "severe problems and gross negligence" appear to have caused zero fatalities and zero radiation release.

I'm not sure this is enough. "We almost head a nuclear meltdown in a densely populated area but zero fatalities so far!" is not inspiring confidence that there will be no fatalities in the future.

> 10,000 fatalities from coal per year in the USA alone.

Where did you get that number?

I agree that this is a tail risk situation, I don't mean to imply "no issues so far" is enough to make it safe.

Three Mile Island isn't evidence of safety just because no one died, what matters to me is that there was no realistic route beyond "shielded meltdown". A lot of the fears raised by opponents of nuclear appear to be outright impossible. (Sadly realistic fears, mostly around hot waste disposal, don't seem to get as much coverage.)

The coal number is deaths from health effects of coal burning. Estimates vary widely, but 7,500 is a minimum and 10k is conservative. It's worse per capita and per watt in other countries, too - US plants are cleanish and US coal is low-particulate. Moving China onto nuclear power would be a vastly bigger gain (even per watt) than the US.

Accidental deaths are nontrivial for power sources, but don't dominate pollution effects. Coal is mostly pollution-derived because it's so dirty, oil is a mix because rigs are dangerous, wing & solar are wholly accident-based simply because there's no lethal pollution there. Nuclear causes approximately zero deaths of any kind, but again, tail risk.

US source: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-other-reason-...

Global deaths/TwH source: https://www.nextbigfuture.com/2011/03/deaths-per-twh-by-ener...

It's not "stupid russians" but a completely different type of reactor that was used in chernobyl. Western reactors in use today are not of that type and do not have the same failure modes. Why does the "I'm afraid of the word nucular" -crowd not know this?


The reactor at Chernobyl had a failure mode that is the exact definition of "don't do that" in nuclear design textbooks.

The category of reactor that Chernobyl belonged to is grossly outclassed in terms of safety and 'meltdown' by multiple "modern" designs (produced primarily in the 50s through 70s). Even some operational since the 70s.

Chernobyl, that accident, is much more a story of piss poor crisis management set to the backdrop of poor government systems and the weaknesses of authoritarian regimes than a nuclear scare story. If citizens think their government might murder them they are less likely to take spontaneously delivered iodine pills, for example.

Chernobyl the humanitarian disaster... kinda wasn't. Most of the cancers were a highly treatable kind and didn't show up in anywhere near the predicted scale (says the WHO). Our nuclear models are _very_ conservative. The actual problems faced by them now? A poor healthcare system and high rates of substance abuse.

And for the mathematically inclined: combining Chernobyl, Fukishima, 3 Mile Island, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki, and imagining that disaster every year, we still hit death rates that compare favorably with the respiratory illness and cancer deaths caused by coal.

If only nuclear power were scale-able and low-carbon, we might have something worth investing in...

> I do understand that less nuclear means more coal and that this is a difficult decision.

Germany has vast financial resources at its disposal. They could go on a natural gas plant building binge and link deals to the US on imports for long durations that the US would be thrilled to do. That would help narrow the trade deficit Germany has with the US ($65 billion annually; natural gas trade could solidly knock out half of that), so killing two birds with one stone. With help from the US abundance of natural gas supply, Germany could replace half its coal power in the next ~15 years using natural gas and significantly reduce its CO2 output just from that (and a big chunk of the other half could probably be knocked out by gradual renewable growth from where they're already at).

Interesting, I wasn't thinking about US gas.

When talking about gas we're always looking at Russia, and the current geopolitical situation makes this very unattractive.

Can those amounts of gas realistically be shipped to Europe?

I'd say it's more a matter of those amounts of gas will be shipped to Europe. Right now it doesn't appear anything can stop it (unless Russia wants to dramatically drop the average price of natural gas in Europe to stop it).

The US is about to become the world's energy kingpin, surpassing Saudi Arabia and Russia in both oil and gas; that vast supply will be pushed outward:


The average price of natural gas in Europe tends to be around $6, typically twice that of the US market. Once you add in the total cost of LNG (processing, transport, etc.), you get to a cost closer to $7.x to $8.x right now (that will come down with volume in the next few years, as the US is building several big new LNG terminals on the Atlantic and the Marcellus shale gas supply in the mid Atlantic is growing rapidly).

That's also before we get to technological innovation, which the US energy industry has always been renowned for, and has done wonders for the US shale industry the last decade (dramatically lowering costs, enabling the industry to survive the oil plunge and rapidly rebound, etc., entirely thwarting OPEC expectations of crushing the industry).

>Can those amounts of gas realistically be shipped to Europe?

Wait, isn't that why we're funding Al-Nusra and all manners of terrorists in Syria and overthrowing the Ukrainian government? To stop it from happening.

The last time this was suggested on the news (CNN, etc), I did some quick math.

To ship gas to Europe, the US will need to spend about 50B-100B+ (minimum) building LNG facilities on both port sides, and then build something like 10,000 LNG Carriers (oceanic ships) to meet demand. Which would cost another 100B+ (maybe even 1T).

After all the infrastructure is set up, the prices will be at least 2-3 what they pay now (as they have to do things to and with the LNG that Russia does not in the process of delivery).

Its not feasible, unless you want the US taxpayers to pick up the bill and then subsidize it.

These were back of the envelope calculations. It could be a factor of 10 off in either direction.

How do you get the gas to Europe? LNG tankers? Too expensive. If they want gas, they'd have to buy it from Russia, and they don't want to buy from Russia.

Yeah the US would hate this. We already have a huge dependence on gas. All comes from Russia.

Why would "the US" hate this? American gas exporters and producers would be happy to have steady long-term buyers. Environmentalists dislike fracking, but I think they'd be neutral to mildly supportive for gas projects that are clearly aimed at reducing coal use. A lot of Americans would be happy about cutting the US trade deficit.

I'll admit that domestic gas consumers wouldn't like this plan any more than they like other plans to increase foreign gas demand, raising domestic prices, but it's not clear that the faction benefitting from low domestic gas prices is more influential than the collective of the groups mentioned above.

We've also seen the only arguments against nuclear power be based on old reactor designs and NIMBY handwaving.

I think there is a good argument, though few people actually bring it, that nuclear reactors and radioactive material disposal can be safe and reliable, but no nuclear reactor or disposal site we are institutionally capable of building will be safe enough to trust. Ie. the problem is civilizational, not technological, inadequacy.

The argument can be further simplified: Nuclear power hasn't got a track record of being economical or safe. The costs of contaminating areas like Fukushima and Chernobyl are astronomical an uninsurable. Spent fuel is piling up. End of life costs are known to be very high, but are also unbounded and unfunded. Maybe alt-fuel reactors are the answer. Maybe the industry can be optimized based on current technology. But there is no demonstration that this is true.

You mean like just last month when greenpeace activists got to shoot fireworks next to used fuel pool:

- https://phys.org/news/2017-10-greenpeace-fireworks-french-nu...

Or the still not practically solved used fuel problem. Or that Germany already now often does not run nuclear power plants (that are for now still allowed to run) because they are too expensive.

Even if the "new reactor types cannot possibly do harm" was true, that's exactly what you told us the last few decades. Every reactor was safe. It was physically impossible that all those safety systems could be overridden, defective, whatever. Impossible.

And every time we saw that it's not true.

After several decades of this we don't trust you anymore. As no sane person would.

You might even be objectively right. But your safety arguments werde wrong the first two hundred times. Why listen to your explanation of your two hundred and first attempt? Let's try something else where experience doesn't virtually guarantee us that we'll be burnt.

And coal mining and production is safe?

Nuclear has the fewest deaths per kWh, period. It's really simple. Now, the cost of bringing new ones online is prohibitive, but shutting down existing ones was really dumb.

I think you really need to think about who the you is that you're addressing here.

It's very easy to dismiss any information you disagree with if you over-generalize like that.

For example: "You told us the earth was headed for a new ice age. Why should we believe you now when you say it's getting too warm?"

You're right, I'm also sure you don't drive a car because of how unsafe they were 50 years ago as well, nor do you fly planes, because why trust them now when they lied before?

> And every time we saw that it's not true.

Every time? That seems a bit excessive does it not?

Thank you. There are also studies about childhood loicemia near nuclear power plants. Of course, these studies could be wrong or lied, but I' rather assume that the ones with a financial interest in nuclear power are downplaying its riscs on a massice scale.

> Chernobyl

Fukushima? Three Mile Island (partial only, though)? That's a (partial) melt-down every 24 years, if we start counting the nuclear age with 1945 and count till today.

If we use the numbers for civilian power plants, we need to start with the commision date of U.S.S.R. power plant "Obninsk", wich was connected to the public grid in 1954. If ending the count today, that would be 21 years. Or, if we take the last melt-down as the reset value for our clock, we will find it at 19 years, for every (partial) meltdown. With more than 500 new nuclear power plants either planned or in production, well....

Let's see, whether Molten Salt Reactors are going to show as an overall positive development...They would make things, as far as I am informed, at least a little bit safer, till we have real fusion power.

You've exhaustively listed every nuclear accident recorded and said, "That's a melt-down every 24 years" as if that were something terrible. The numbers do not support you. Nuclear has less deaths per kilowatt hour produced than coal by orders of magnitude, and even kills less people than hydroelectric, solar, or wind power.

Even if we did consider deaths from catastrophic events somehow "worse" than the occasional, not-so-newsworthy death, look at the Banqiao dam breakage. That's rarely brought up as an argument against hydroelectric power.

Nuclear is hated due to superstition and fear-mongering. Please don't add to it; it's our only thoroughly demonstrated alternative to large-scale fossil fuel consumption.

Except for renewables.

Not true. Hydro is a great example. The majority of hydro deaths are caused by dam failures. The most deadly dam failure in the world was the Banqiao Dam. It's failure caused 85,000 direct deaths and an estimated 150,000 deaths due to famine caused by destruction of cropland. Even in the US, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dam_failure lists 498 deaths in the US alone since 1945 while generating significantly less power than nuclear has in that time. And that doesn't include the tens of people who die in boating accidents related to dams every single year.

No, surprising though it may seem, renewable energy sources like wind, solar, and hydro have all caused more deaths proportional to the energy they have produced than nuclear.

Mentioning Fukushima while talking about Germany demonstrates his point that it's hysteria. Fukushima happened on an island that has regular monsoons, is prone to tsunamis and prone to earthquakes.

Germany is fucking boring. The rains here are moderate. One half of its coast line is a barely connected inland see that has almost no flood/ebb. The other half is protected by the UK from strong water movements. And earthquakes here, if they ever happen, are absolutely tiny.

You'd need to multiply your prediction there by maybe 100 to balance out just how much safer germany is as a country compared to japan.

I agree with rcoveson. I see your stats and say "world-wide we ONLY have an accident every 19 years? Wow that's amazing, we can produce all of our energy without carbon and only deal with one accident in the world every 19 years! Hell yeah, we solved this energy problem!" (Yes I'll agree the rate would go up as we add plants but still, that is an incredibly encouraging stat, not a depressing one)

That's known as the Gambler's fallacy. Basically, "Assuming that whatever happened before will happen again (e.g. I got away with murder last time so it'll be fine for me to murder someone again now)". Just because there have been failures doesn't mean there will continue to be failures. Consider the industry evaluates each of these issues and knows how to prevent against them in the interim. Not to mention ongoing science to improve the efficiency and stability of these systems.

> renewables can not make up the difference then, now or in the foreseeable future

Note that renewable electricity supply has actually grown faster than nuclear has declined.


That's great, and needs to continue, but it hasn't happened organically.

There have been significant investments in economic, political, and social support of renewables which have enabled that growth. Also, the rising price of oil has made it more competitive.

Renewable energy has been promoted. Nuclear energy detractors have only advocated against it, rather than fighting the more difficult "shut down the nuclear plants and also spend money on more renewables" fight, they went with just "shut down the nuclear plants". Coal was the unintended result.

Yes the fight against coal is a challenging political battle in Germany. The social and political aspects are probably the most challenging.

There is discussion happening at high levels in government, for example the State Secretary at the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy, Rainer Baake, used to be the head of Agora Energiewende who put out this coal phase out strategy.


Export is not the metric you are looking for. Germany exports lots of solar and wind engery during storms or on hot summer days because it cannot use it. The prices for this energy are low, even negative.

This chart shows net generation. i.e. GWh/yr

Note that Germany earns more $ per MWh exported to France than vice versa. This is because on average France tends to have surpluses at night and in summer when electricity isn't in high demand. France imports electricity at high prices during cold snaps in winter when German wind tends to be blowing.

> renewables can not make up the difference then, now or in the foreseeable future, no matter how hard we wish it could.

Why not?

> Yes, I know: Chernobyl.

It's not only that, there are lots of problems with contemporary nuclear plants as well.

You know there is a reason why countries place there reactors on borders of other countries. ? :) ( Just an interesting fact, not starting a debate of pro vs contra)

I would call that an interesting half truth or outright lie. Nuclear reactors need a lot of water to run the turbines and to cool themselves. A lot of international borders are on major rivers, or other large bodies of water...

Especially the French nuclear power plants at the border of Germany...

France also have a lot of nuclear plant in the Rhone valley in the middle of the country

And Belgium

>renewables can not make up the difference then, now or in the foreseeable future, no matter how hard we wish it could

Can you maybe provide some back of the napkin math on why not, or a link to someplace that has done this?

The smallest nuclear plant in the US generates 582 MW of power with a capacity factor of 92.1%. That capacity factor means that in a year you'll get 582MW * 9258 hours per year * 92.1% = 4.9Trillion kwh/year of power. That's how much we need to replace if we chose to shut down the SMALLEST nuclear plant in the US (the largest is almost 4,000 MW).

The largest wind turbine being designed anywhere in the world right now would be 500 meters tall (taller than the empire state building) with 200 meter blades and at peak output would generate 50MW. Capacity factors for on-shore plants in the US average about 33%. So 50MW * 9258 hours per year * 33% = 0.152T KWh/year. The largest turbine currently built in the world gets 8MW not 50MW so 0.024T kwh/year.

I.e. we would need ~200 of the biggest wind turbines ever built to equal the amount of energy we get out of the smallest nuclear reactor currently running. And that is just to break even. Comparing the median nuclear plant to the median wind turbine makes the numbers even worse.

Hydro has the problem in the US that there aren't any good sites left. Solar costs even more per KW or per KWh than wind does (~1.5x is what I've seen at grid scale in the US) especially when you include the storage needed to maintain consistent supply throughout a day (~3x wind)

Your argument is a decade out of date. The german move away from nuclear power was immediately motivated by the Fukushima catastrophe. So at the very least, you should include reasons why Japan's safeguards were always substandard, and how everyone knew that, and how something like that cannot possibly happen in an actually advanced society like Germany, France, or Ontario.

> The german move away from nuclear power was immediately motivated by the Fukushima catastrophe.

Not true. It was made into law in 2000. The current governing party put it on hold and reinstated it after Fukushima. Currently they are in the process of softening it up again, ie. today was announced that only 10 reactors need to be retired.

I have never understood why people fear nuclear and don’t seem to fear carbon as giscerally or more.

I can understand that nuclear has risks. But people seem to evaluate nuclear in a vacuum, rather than against the carbon sources which currently replace it.

“What do we do with the waste” is a better question when applied to coal.

The fear of nuclear power in Germany comes from the Tschernobyl disaster 1986. A life changing event for many Germans. Not beeing able to leave the house. Cutting a lot of foods from your diet because they are contaminated for decades (mushrooms, game meat, berries etc.).

East block countries trying to sell their contaminated food for consumption and it ending up in GDR school kitchens.

Additionally having two superpowers stationing a huge arsenal of nuclear bombs in your country. While at the same time beeing sure that you'd die first in a new world war that would almost surely start in your country and would probably devastate your whole continent beyond beeing suited for human surival.

Then the whole argument that its cleaner and cheaper energy. While you pay for transport, storage and security with your tax money and the company keeps the profits. By storage i mean temporar storage, because no one worldwide has figured out how to safely store the waste for hundreds of thousands of years (Pyramids are 4500 years old and we don't even know how they are build). Thats why most of this waste from the 80s and 90s lies a few km off our coasts in the sea where the UK, Russia and Italian mafia dumped it.

> The fear of nuclear power in Germany comes from the Tschernobyl disaster 1986.

Tschernobyl was almost forgotten, at least by the politicians in power, but then Fukushima happend.

No, this fear is still very much alive, even in my generation who was alive back then, but too young to really remember.

Chernobyl is the defining moment of the anti-nuclear movement (and I'm not only talking about active protestors like in Lüchow-Dannenberg, most Germens have some of it inside themselves, even if they don't actively march on the streets).

It is really hard to overestimate the effect of the word "Chernobyl" in Germany.

> Chernobyl is the defining moment of the anti-nuclear movement

The movement is much older. I remember, that the anti-nuclear movement was already very active and in heat around 1980-82 (Biblis). The broad public, the mainstream, started accepting this threat with Chernobyl.

Not by the populace tough. I mean our politicians were happy to kill off the planet 30 years ago until many citizens started to protest for environmentaly concious politics. Now its mainstream in German politics and almost all other countries start similar programs currently. I mean even the US starts to hear the bells ringing in the last couple of years and is implementing policies that they shoul've implemented 30 years ago.

In addition I might add that we are sourrounded by countries that we don't trust to be able to feed their citizes reliably. Less so when it comes to reactor security.

> In addition I might add that we are sourrounded by countries that we don't trust to be able to feed their citizes reliably.

I beg your pardon?

Same here. Ofcourse when vast natural gas deposits were discovered nuclear energy was no longer needed.

Countries like France and Japan didn't have an alternative, they had to go all in on nuclear reactors. I think nuclear is a lazy cop out. Until every roof in Europe has solar cells we should not even be thinking about building new reactors.

Then there's the popular culture that feeds pretty much completely fictionalized views of nuclear. I'm pretty sure a lot of anti-nuclear attitudes stem from The Simpsons.

The large German anti-nuclear movements predate the Simpsons by over a decade.

Yes, and?

March 1972 Senator Mike Gravel of Alaska submitted to the Congressional Record facts surrounding a routine check in a nuclear power plant which indicated abnormal radioactivity in the building's water system. Radioactivity was confirmed in the plant drinking fountain. Apparently there was an inappropriate cross-connection between a 3,000 gallon radioactive tank and the water system.



Germany is traditionally very anti-nuclear because when the Chernobyl disaster happened, a lot of people in the south were told to not let their children play outside. Even today some mushrooms and boars that eat those mushrooms are contaminated.

On the French and Belgian side of its borders Germany got some very old reactors that had some serious security related incidents within the last few years. [1] In the city of Aachen the government even distributed iodine tablets if it gets worse.

Additionally Germany doesn't have locations to store radioactive waste indefinitely. The current location for intermediate storage, called "Asse", is known to be leaking contaminated water into all kinds of directions and nobody is really sure how to stop it. [2]

1: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tihange_Nuclear_Power_Station#...

2: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asse_II_mine#Water_inflow

And finally, don't forget Fukushima. The current politics here in Germany are a direct reaction to Fukushima.

Chernobyl, Asse, Aachen, Gorleben all didn't change anything in our politics. But Fukushima did. Immediately.

The end of nuclear was decided long before Fukushima - in 2000.

The Merkel government was on its way to change that, against protests (2010). Shortly after that Fukushima happened (2011), and Merkel had to return to the Atomausstieg (also 2011).

"Fine particles from coal power plants kill an estimated 13,200 people each year in the US alone"


The death toll from coal is staggering compared to nuclear. It is not even close.

Coal is more dangerous than nuclear even if you count the deaths in Hiroshima and Nagasaki under the "nuclear" column.

How do you actually asses that the cause of death is coal vs cigarette smoke vs car exaust? Is only cancer of respiratory system taken into account? Is a percentage of stroke victims also? How is that percentage chosen?

These are not death as in murder, these are a statistical measure called excess death and it is usually very model dependent. I looked a bit into the models for nuclear accidents. There the problem is, that there is just no good data in the relevant range of radiation. We have data from very low doses due to background radiation and for high doses due to accidents, we don't have good data for large scale releases. Either you can do what is suggested for higher acute doses, then you end up with 40 000 dead due to Chernobyl, or you can fit a second order model, then you will end up with something in the order of 10. (Or you do what Greenpeace did and you look at correlations between irradiation and cancer rates in former Soviet oblasts, where you then have some influence of Soviet industry, etc...) And that is if you want to look at catastrophic risk at all. (After all an RMBK had several design flaws, that modern reactors don't have.)

The number basically tells you that according to a specific model, that is hopefully a good approximation of our understanding of the risks, a certain percentage of the death rate should be due to that factor. However I think these numbers carry not much more information than 32 other bits of the same sentence and to really use them you have to look at the specific model and you need to develop an opinion if the model reflects the relevant arguments well.

I don't know how this study does it, but one can make estimates by seeing how death-rates change in places with different levels of coal particulates, particularly over time as coal plants were opened and shuttered.

Alternatively there are studies that correlate various pollutants with respiratory issues, and then compare that with the pollution emitted by coal plants.

Ideally one would make many such estimates, yielding a range that one could have high confidence is close to the truth, similar to how we use multiple methods of dating fossils, and then know something is wrong if there is a large disparity.

The slow or grudual & unseen, versus the sudden and dramatic.

Humans seem to almost universally do poorly at judging those two pools of risk against one another.

People are terrified of being murdered or crashing in an airplane (both sudden death), yet they die by the droves at 10x, 100x or 1000x the rate from poor lifestyle habits (food, smoking, drinking, lack of exercise, etc). The fear of sharks is likewise similar (sudden violent death, and extremely rare).

With some of these there is also the control aspect that comes into play (having control, not having control, or having an illusion of control). For example with sharks, you're in their environment, heavily lacking control, almost helpless by comparison to their ability. With passenger airplane crashes, it's kiss your ass goodbye, you have basically zero control over the situation (not even the ability to pretend you do). People die by the millions driving cars, yet they don't seem to fear that nearly so much as dying in a plane crash. I chalk that up to the partial illusion that drivers have a very large amount of control as to whether they die in a car crash or not.

I believe coal generates the same fear response as the gradual lifestyle threats do, it's perceived as a gradual threat/risk. Nuclear is perceived as a sudden dramatic death threat (decades of miseducation, propaganda, and of course generalized fears over all things nuclear derived from the bomb).

People die in huge numbers in very violent automobile accidents. For young people in the US (15–35), the leading causes of death are car accidents and gunshots (homicide, suicide, accidents).

Most physical violence (assault, murder, rape, ..) is between people who know each-other, but typically people are more afraid of different-looking strangers.

I think it has more to do with fear of unusual situations than suddenness or drama.

> People die in huge numbers in very violent automobile accidents.

That's offset by the illusion that people believe they're in a very high degree of control over the situation. It enables the brain to create an illusion and say to itself: I won't make that mistake, my actions dictate the outcome, I'm a good driver (as the comical studies always demonstrate, people tend to dramatically over-estimate their driving skill).

> Most physical violence ... is between people who know each-other

You don't actually think that's going to happen, that's the issue. If you told someone their pal is about to rape or murder them, they would not believe it, they'd be far more afraid of the menacing looking stranger. That's where ignorance of risk - as with sharks - comes into action. I would guarantee a low percentage would believe they're more likely to be murdered by someone they're close to than a stranger. If a person doesn't have a meaningful comprehension of the risk (as with nuclear), the risk context inherently can't be judged properly. I suspect there's a big illusion of control that is involved between two known relations as well, you think you have some influence over whether a friend will murder you (surely they like you, surely you could talk them down from a violent confrontation, etc.); versus that almost entirely missing from the menacing stranger scenario.

>Most physical violence (assault, murder, rape, ..) is between people who know each-other, but typically people are more afraid of different-looking strangers.

That (the belief that this is an error) is itself a statistical fallacy, one that's isomorphic to "most traffic accidents happens near your home" (most of your driving is near your home). But the relevant danger metric is "risk per mile driven". That's lower near your home. You are right to use less caution there.

Likewise: most of your conflict is with people you know, but most of your interaction is likewise with acquaintances! The relevant danger metric is "crimes committed against you per unit of interaction time". On that measure, strangers are in fact more dangerous.

Raising your guard around acquaintances will lead to costly false negatives. Raising your guard around strangers will lead to a small number of false negatives and save you from costly false positives. Do you deliberately go by yourself down dark alleys filled with strangers, since "if I'm going to be a crime victim at all, it'll be from someone I know"? Then you understand the basic fallacy there.

This logic doesn't make sense to me. If walking down a dark alley filled with strangers is "interacting with strangers" then so is walking anywhere - the mall, the bus, the beach, every restaurant, etc. Our lives are full of strangers, the vast majority of which never even notice us.

> People die in huge numbers in very violent automobile accidents. For young people in the US (15–35), the leading causes of death are car accidents and gunshots (homicide, suicide, accidents).

Right. But nobody is talking about reducing that number, or reducing our reliance on cars. Drivers kill over a million people every single year, but that is acceptable death.

There are people talking about it, but there’s enough profit and personal identity at stake that it’s hard to have real society-wide conversations about what we really want to value as a society.

There exist countries where automobile deaths are not considered acceptable, or where not all policy planning takes an ironclad need for automobiles as the exclusive mode of transportation as a basic premise.

I think it's very misleading to lump suicide in with forms of death that are not under one's control.

I should say that homicide and suicide by gun are causes of death #2 and #3 for that age group (the order of the two is different between 15–25 vs. 25–35 year olds). Successful suicide rate is notably higher in places chock full of guns.

Which is not even to mention the daily occurrence in the USA of young children accidentally shooting other children (typically siblings or friends) or themselves to death.

Having a gun in your house is one of the biggest possible risks you can bring to your own life and the lives of people in your family.

And yet, hydropower has had even more dramatic accidents than nuclear [1], but people are fine with it.

I think it's more about the association with nuclear weapons, plus the fact that we've known fire and water for as long as modern humans have existed, while radiation is a new danger that's invisible and spooky.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banqiao_Dam

Yes, exactly. Further, coal mining disasters aren't connected to the power industry that depends on them.

And nuclear accidents tend to be widely covered and sensationalized, even ones without casualties, but fires or accidents at coal plants that actually kill people are not.

And as an example the Aberfan disaster where coal mine waste had a landslide and killed 116 children and 28 adults.

It’s not a rational distinction, it’s a tribal one. It’s the same cognitive bias that meant during Cold War both the USA and the USSR thought gay men were spies for the other team. Black amd white morality — if you’re any less than an angel you must be a demon.

Are you serious? It is the same reason people fear terrorist attacks when a million people are killed by cars every single year but everyone still drives.

That's an interesting thought and I think you have hit the nail on the head.

If you ask someone where nuclear power can damage the environment, they say yes it can. They understand the damage from fallout because it is local.

But the same person may not believe that coal can damage the environment globally. There is a huge cognitive bias against effects we can't physically see, and understanding the scale of the planet.

This is the same reason we have some people who still believe in the flat earth conspiracy.

The only answer real is education. If educators had a way to help children better create visual models of these things inside their heads, maybe we could all agree on these issues we can't see with our eyes. Maybe VR will help? I don't know. But I would definitely donate to any think tank that was A/B testing educators lessons on global warming.

Who believes the Earth is flat? As far as I'm aware, nobody does and nobody ever did. The belief in flat earthers is ironically stronger and more like a conspiracy theory than the belief in a flat Earth.

Do you think the NBA Kyrie Irving is joking with you?

Is the rapper B.O.B. trolling with his GoFundMe Campaign to build a satellite and find the truth?

Maybe they are media savvy ploys to generate free attention, but they have thousands of fans that aren't in on the joke.

I used to think exactly what you do, but that is the definition of liberal bias. I couldn't imagine a world where someone would be so stupid enough to think the world was flat.

I also couldn't imagine a world where people were stupid enough to elect Donald Trump. But the divide in this country is real, and beliefs like ours are making it worse. Some people's scientific literacy really is limited to what they can see in front of them.

I never heard of either of those guys, but I'll take your word for it about the satellite.

Apparently this "movement" is really small though and shut down entirely for long periods throughout history. The most recent resurrection being only a few years ago and the Flat Earth Society claims its membership grows by a couple hundred people a year. Well, there are millions of people who believe in Noah's flood despite there being no evidence it ever happened and lots that it didn't, so I can well believe a few hundred people believe in a flat earth. The world is a big place.

I don't think you can compare flat earthers to Trump voters though. Lots of people voted for Trump because they have different priorities to you (e.g. hating political correctness, hating Clinton, really wanting immigration controls), not because they disagree on basic laws of physics.

[This Is What the Q&A Session at a Flat Earth Conference Looks Like](http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2017/11/13/this...)

Well, that showed me. I guess there is nothing too stupid to be believed by at least a few people on the internet.

For the record, I was thinking of this:


... the false belief that the belief in a flat Earth was common in the past.

you could probably find out this is very demonstrably false by searching facebook or google news for about 15 minutes

Can you really though? I find it hard to distinguish from a really elaborate troll.

Adding the the coal is safer than nuclear argument:


Nuclear has the risk of radiation release, coal has the guarantee of radiation release. But rooftop solar is still the best option. Solar along fences, solar above electrified train tracks.

Energy storage is not a solved problem at scale yet. Are we making useful progress? Sure. But, not solved yet.

Overbuild production capacity sufficiently and the need for storage size goes down fast.

(If your grid can supply twice your need at full power it will still be enough with half the sun and wind, and the storage will be filled faster and used less. We actually ran the numbers.)

What are Terrawatts?

> What are Terrawatts?

1 terawatt (TW) = 10e12 watts. Then 1 watt-hour (Wh) is 3600 joules.

Or maybe you meant to say they misspelled the word? But then you would have just said it was a misspelling, so I assumed you asked about the unit itself.

Terra is the SI unit for 10^12. One Terrawatt-hour is the electrical energy equivalent to 1,000,000,000,000 watts, generated in one hour.

Risk is not the only reason to move away from nuclear energy. There's also the problem of radioactive waste, which will need to be dealt with for many, many years (German laws require secure storage for one million years).

I won't claim that radioactive waste is more problematic than burning coal here, because I don't know enough about the topic. But it needs to be taken into account in the discussion.

Calling nuclear energy "emissions free" is just wrong in my opinion: it just generates a different kind of emissions, nuclear waste.

Fun fact: coal also produces radioactive waste, by freeing up naturally radioactive particles that would otherwise remain stuck in coal rocks deep into the Earth.

The current "solution" to that radioactive waste? None whatsoever. We're breathing it up as we type.

I'll admit that nuclear waste is more dangerous due to being concentrated, but, if the standards were the same as with coal, a reasonable solution would be to dump the waste in the ocean and take steps to ensure it mixes up.

Nuclear waste is not actually a huge problem if you look at resources spent.

Its only a 'problem' because anti-nuclear people demand totally unreasonable requirements and managed to put them into law.

Plus the waste majority of the problem would go away, newer reactor types could consume lots of the old 'waste'. The US alone has enough 'waste' to power the whole US for years and years. It is of course not allowed to even research these reactors in many places.

While it might not be 'emission free' it is free of uncontrolled emission. You know exactly where and how much radiation is produced and you can easily set it up so that not a single human or animal is hurt by it.

> newer reactor types could consume lots of the old 'waste'.

These reactors don't exist in Germany, and they won't exist in the next two decades and they need a whole new industry around it. These types of industries (reprocessing plants, fuel production, etc.) nobody wants to have in a dense European country and which are extremely expensive.

Setting up these new reactors and the corresponding new fuel industries far away. If somebody wants to invest the many billions, good luck - but hopefully not anywhere near Germany.

You don't have to build a storage room for millions of years if you know that technologically its is quite feasible to use these resources in the next 1-2 generations.

If nuclear energy development would not be stopped and opposed on every step both in development and deployment these things would have been solved long ago. The needed technology essentially exists for 40 years.

Basically the problem only exist as long as people are determined to not develop nuclear technology any further.

As for your 'dense population argument' that is essentially another 'nuclear is very dangerous and needs to be far away from people' argument. Every reasonable large country in Europe has enough space for these things, if you use real rather then fantasy risk assessment.

Also, in a global market there is no reason why any of that stuff has to be in your country.

> technologically its is quite feasible to use these resources in the next 1-2 generations.

These generations are far away and spent fuel piles up. Many countries have huge amounts of spent fuel near reactors. See Fukushima -> lots of spent fuel in pools in reactor buildings. This caused lots of problems in combination of the poor design (pool high in the building), failing backup electricity and failing outside electricity delivery (-> failing cooling of the pools).

> If nuclear energy development would not be stopped and opposed on every step both in development and deployment these things would have been solved long ago.

That's why nuclear thrives in China. Nuclear depends on and supports top-down authoritarian government and decision making. I'm happy that we have stopped this early.

> Every reasonable large country in Europe has enough space for these things, if you use real rather then fantasy risk assessment.

The faulty steel in the not yet running and extremely expensive French EPR is real and not a fantasy.


You might not know it, but by international treaties, Germany is banned from operating or having fuel reprocessing facilities.

As result, it either has to be reprocessed expensively in France, or stored directly.

> Also, in a global market there is no reason why any of that stuff has to be in your country.

You do know how prohibitively expensive transport is, and how many legal requirements there are (to avoid hijacking by some rogue nation)?

Dump it in subduction zones would also help

Maybe you are right. But, let’s not panic about this though. I believe this will be just a temporary hike and pushes Germany towards renewable energy sources even stronger.

I suspect it is partly a political move, partly economical.

For me, the biggest drawback for nuclear power is that it is expensive. Nuclear fuel is cheap but building, maintaining and decommissioning power plants is not.

It is especially apparent as power plants approach their end of life. The choice is to either decommission it, an expensive and unproductive process, or to extend its life. Unlike what many people think, there is nothing wrong with the second option, however, maintenance costs increase exponentially, so passed a certain point, it is no longer viable.

I suspect Germany moved away from nuclear because of a combination of several factors : public perception of nuclear power following Fukushima accidents, power plants approaching end of life and sufficient coal reserves. Their policy seem to be a mix of highly variable solar+wind backed up by on-demand coal plants, and nuclear, while ideal for baseline, doesn't seem to fit this policy.

Germany had been moving away from nuclear power for a long time before Fukushima: The plans for shutdowns were made in 2000, with the last reactors closing in 2015-2020 (there were no fixed dates, but rather remaining production capacities assigned, so e.g. stopping a reactor for a few months of maintenance wouldn't have meant a loss for the operator). A anti-nuclear movement had existed for decades before that, growing more and more in popularity the more people lost trust in the plant operators and the agencies supposed to oversee them: operators failing to report incidents, regular failures in temporary storage facilities (e.g. the "Asse", an old salt mine in which nuclear waste is stored and which started to flood), a never-completed search for an actual long-term storage facility, questions about why the government was paying for so much of that work, ...

Late 2010 the then-current government decided to weaken this and added run-time extensions, against popular opinion which wanted to stay with the 2000 plans. Fukushima pushed this back up to public attention, which caused the government to turn 180 degrees, force the worst reactors offline temporarily and re-implement the 2000 plans.

I agree that building and decomissioning are expensive. But the rational response to that is: don't build more. How is early decomissioning going to help both of these issues?

It's very tiresome how these threads seem to pop up on this site that basically boil down to how "Nuclear is the savior of all" and people are too scared/stupid to see it. The problem is that "people" aren't making these decisions, utility companies are. And they have good economic reasons on top of the complicated politics.

For safety reasons, nuclear plants are very complex, take a long time to build and require a ton of capital. The physics make these work out long term, but only if you're willing to build a large enough facility that you can take the place of 2-3 comparable coal facilities.

Part of this is because they produce power more efficiently, but also because the largest startup costs for these are from finding a site and going through all the safety and other regulatory requirements. Once you have approval for single reactor, you're better off adding a few more at the same site than trying to find another site for a new reactor.

The bottom line is the utility company is on the hook for a huge investment for 30 years or more before it breaks even. That's what stalled the development in the 70s and 80s and it's even more unlikely to get started today, what with the extreme uncertainty surrounding fossil fuel sources, the rapidly decreasing cost of renewables, etc.

The most common response to this fact is that we can replace huge facilities these with lots of much smaller/safer Thorium or other alternative fuels. From a physics standpoint, this may be true, but utility companies don't want to have to manage the fuel chain for (potentially) dozens of facilities, governments don't like having to guard that many small sites, and there are a limited number of communities that are comfortable living near a reactor of any kind, even a "tiny" one. I don't know if this is smart or not, but it's not going to change anytime soon. The bottom line is that unless we have a huge leap in the amount of technology required to manage a nuclear reactor, or in the potential safety factor around the fuel and other risks, nuclear is not going to ever become a majority power source in most countries.

It's because they have bad experiences with nuclear and general public doesn't like it either. I suck at German so I can't find the article, but there have been a few cases where the construction of a few reactors has been sub-optimal and thus somewhat dangerous (and too hard to fix). Also some cases of statistically significantly higher chances of leukemia in children near one nuclear plant. But don't quote me on this, GTranslate might have left some critical details about those articles untranslated.

They have a pretty bad experience with coal, too. Several thousand Germans die each year due to pollution from coal-fired power plants. Yet there's no urgent push to immediately shut down every.

Because that's invisible.

Still, n * 1000 deaths (in n years) may rationally be preferable to m deaths once, even if n * 1000 >> m

Risk assessment is a funny thing. Economists and psychologists have done great experiments along these lines.

I can see it if m is, say, 90% of the entire population. But when m is measured in thousands, how is the vastly larger death toll ever rationally preferable just because it's spread out a bit?

It's not even spread out that much. Worldwide, coal kills more people in two months than nuclear ever has, and that's including nuclear bombs.

> Several thousand Germans die each year due to pollution from coal-fired power plants.

Do you have a source for this?

Sure, here: https://www.euractiv.com/section/health-consumers/news/repor...

Quick summary of figures: in 2013, Germany suffered 1,860 deaths due to coal plants in Germany, 1,770 deaths due to coal plants in other countries, and German coal plants also caused 2,490 deaths in other countries.

There are probably too many significant figures on those numbers, but the general idea of "several thousand" should be more or less right.

I'd be interested to learn more if there are any statistically significant results showing clustering - proving that there is spatiotemporal clustering that is different enough from what might be expected at random is pretty hard. I know that Sellafield has been studied in detail many times, with no definitive evidence yet found.

At least those examples I heard about were easily explained by chance. It was the usual "humans are bad at recognizing randomness".

There are also lots of confounding variables to account for - for example, power plants (of all kinds) commonly have higher amounts of road freight than would otherwise be the case, thus greater air pollution etc. Inhabitants of areas around power plants move in and out of the area. Some people that live in the area work at the plant, whereas others do not. Prevailing weather and topography may affect how any emissions from a plant disperse. Spatial stats is hard!

>the current solution is Nuclear Energy. Yes it does pose many risks but so does burning coal, and the latter seems to be destroying our environment.

It is hard to get away from that energy density, yeah. I remember seeing an old black and white photo in a book as a child where each pellet of uranium was equal to like a ton of coal in terms of electrical production.

Uranium has two to three million times the energy density of coal, so one kg of uranium equals several thousand metric tons of coal.

I imagine a pellet is no larger than a marble, so it seems same proportion.

There are so many xkcds, I still discover some of them! Thanks for sharing.

They should have seen this coming a long time ago.

I did a study abroad in Germany in 2000, and one of my classes was on the energy crisis. We visited a strip mine that was going to become the largest lake in Germany after they were done extracting the coal, because they were planning to fill the huge hole with water. It's hard to describe the scale of the thing in words. "Enormous" doesn't even start.

As part of that same course, the Germans were also nice enough to tour a bunch of foreign engineering students around inside one of their nuclear reactors. That was quite a trip. After 9/11 I doubt they did those tours anymore, and now the reactors will be gone anyway..

Very little about nuclear policy has any relation to sense. Emotion dominates the discussion, even more than usual.

The good news is that it looks hopeful that renewables will be in a position to take over before too much longer, giving us emission-free energy without the emotional baggage of nukes.

We had a reasonable long-term plan. Then Fukushima happened.

Merkel always goes with the popular sentiment, the only exception was the refugee crisis and her party suffered dearly for that.

At the very least they should have had a plan to move to another green energy source. Or at least something that isn't essentially guaranteed to kill people.

> The emergency move away from nuclear has been incredibly short sighted.

Movement for it started in 1986. Complete exit was made into law in 2000. Softened up and reinstated after Fukushima.

> I understand not wanting to build new reactors, but shutting down running reactors, with all the capital investment involved, just doesn't make any sense.

Many reactors are old and wouldn't have been running for any longer anyways. Other than that I agree that it does not make sense on a economical level.

> Especially when there is little risk of natural disasters in Germany.

Like in every other country that has nuclear power plants, severe hazards are a weekly occurence. Aditionally Germany is close to many countries which nobody trusts when it comes to nuclear security. Ukraine already had a nuclear catastrophe that cost ~1 million lifes until to date. Belgium has one of the most dangerous reactors running, Tihange 2. Etc. If you google for it you can find pictures of nuclear plants that fix their pipes with duct tape and catch radioactive water with kiddie pools.

Aditionally there is the very real and exisiting risk that all our sourrounding seas and oceans have the nuclear waste of a couple decades dumped into them with happy involvement of governments, militaries and organized crime. Then there is the waste which is temporarily stored. Worldwide. Since nobody can figure out how to store and keep it save for the next couple hundred thousand years. I mean we're not even on the level of knowing what really happened 2000 years ago.

> If people are serious about maintaining the same quality of lifestyle that we have today without burning as much coal,

The people in Germany have will and currently do accept sacrifices in this regard when it comes to saving the environment. We pay high taxes on energy and transportation. Our industry is on the forefront of environment friendly production. This was a push that started as a grass roots movement in the 80s. Now its German mainstream politics. Germans actually invest a lot of money in the environment. So do other countries.

> the current solution is Nuclear Energy.

Yes. But its not the optimal solution and it can be phased out. If my country is on the forefront of phasing it out I'm all for it. I'm also for phasing out coal. Especially since for example in our domestic coal production, every employee is subsidized by the state with ~ 500 000 € p. year.

> Yes it does pose many risks but so does burning coal, and the latter seems to be destroying our environment.

Both destroy our environment. All that nuclear waste in our seas will start to leak out and will probably kill off many species and large parts of the oceans. Its already killing millions of people and we don't know what is going to happen.

Nuclear could be a clean solution to our current energy needs if its managed correctly. On the other hand it could well be a suicide technology where we wake up one day and realize that its too late for our species or planet.

Germany, despite all it's posturing, does not really believe that global warming is as scary as they say it is. If they really believed that global warming was catastrophic, then even having a Chernobyl occur once every decade is preferable to shutting down nuclear and burning coal.

Not too long ago microwave radiation was a huge boogeyman. Everybody was afraid of it turning them into mutants or used as super weapons. The only thing that changed was some people started putting it into their homes. They were cooking their food with it, and nobody died. Then they went through the whole technology adoption curve, jumped the chasm, and the rest is history.

I honestly believe that if we had focused more on building smaller and smaller nuclear power plants, and putting them in more and more cities, that we wouldn't have had this problem. If you look around at the areas that have high support for nuclear power, they're all areas that have had nuclear power plants for decades without a problem. Make them small enough that people don't notice them, and when they find out one has been in their backyard for 20 years, they shrug it off like if they found out their neighbor was a lesbian (maybe that's a bad example but whatever).

You seem to be saying that nuclear power is harmless, and all fear of it is irrational.

That's simply delusional. Yes, maybe well-maintained nuclear power plants are an acceptable risk. But pretending there's an alternative reality where we all casually refill our backyard reactors with enriched uranium on the weekend is really somewhere out there.

Sure. But also the personal coal furnace that many in the world still use for heating is a lot worse.

Nuclear power is kind of a research hobby of mine.

Did you know the lethal dose of absorbed ionising radiation is only about 10 joules per kilogram? It would be great if it wasn’t so low. We’d already have nuclear powered manned space flight for one thing.

Nuclear could be so awesome but its its so hard to do because of regulation. We would already have energy cheaper then coal if you could more easily develop and deploy these.

We would also have quite a few uninhabitable areas if we let Silicon Valley startup types dabble with nuclear reactors.

"Move fast and break things"…

That's the same argument people make against SpaceX and they are generally far faster cheaper and have high standards.

Yes, nuclear should not be a total free for all, but there is absolutely no reason why people should not be allowed to make small research reactors and small reactors to iterate on the technology.

We essentially still use age old concepts for our reactors and one of the reasons is that its almost impossible to bring something different to market. Its literally stifling innovation.

If American nuclear power were exceptionally dysfunctional, like American health care, you'd expect to see other countries do a lot better. Long project timelines would be a problem only in the US (and perhaps other "over-regulated" countries).

Canada's newest operating reactor, Darlington 4, took 8 years from construction start to commercial operation. Russia's newest, Novovoronezh 2-1, took 8 years. Civaux 2, France's newest, took 11 years. Kudankulam 2, India's newest, took 15 years. (All numbers from the IAEA's Power Reactor Information System).

That's a long time for billions of dollars to be tied up in construction before producing a single watt of electricity or a single dollar of revenue. The advantages of going fast are obvious. So why has no other country developed small modular reactors that you build in 2 years, like a natural gas plant?

I think that the most parsimonious explanation is that building reactors quickly just isn't easy, even without American-style regulation. Many countries take almost-a-decade to decade-plus times to build large reactors. No other countries have yet deployed small modular reactors. Why not? India, Russia, Brazil -- none of them have the slightest obligation to imitate American-style nuclear regulations, and they are not generally known for excessive attention to environmental protection or worker safety. Why don't they have cheap, quick-build reactors?

The good news is, that for this year so far, 38% of the electricity in Germany comes from renewable sources. Solar and Wind generation capacity is still growing. But the big energy companies like to use their paid-off coal plants, as it is profitable, and politics isn't currently putting much pressure onto them to stop it. As coal plants cannot be quickly switched on or off, Germany is exporting a lot of electricity into the neighbor countries - whenever the sum out of the renewable sources and the coal produces an electricity surplus. From time to time we even have negative rates at the electricity exchanges.

There is a very quick way to reduce the carbon footprint: use more gas plant. They exist, but they are mostly idle, as gas costs more than coal. Using them rather than the coal plants would have several instant effects: gas produces less pollution, and produces less CO2 than coal for the same amount of energy. Also, much less electricity would be produced, as gas plants can be throttled fast enough to avoid overproduction.

So the carbon could be down quickly, only requiring to be less protective to the coal jobs and the energy companies revenues.

About 40% of energy production in Germany is still coal, and 15% nuclear. Nuclear will be shut down by 2022 and coal will be shut down more or less quickly depending on politics. This means that Germany will be looking for a replacement for over half of their energy production within the few next decades.

There is not enough hydroelectric capacity in Germany, so the only viable solution is gas -- in addition to lots of solar and wind. Hence Nord Stream 2. Germany wants to have multiple options for gas providers in order to negotiate good deals.

So yes, gas is definitely the future of German energy production, unless something completely unexpected happens.

> There is not enough hydroelectric capacity in Germany

Build pumped storage plants in 1km succession along all the high Fall lines of the Mittelgebirge. Ideally right next to the Wind Turbines that are already there. Sure, it's only 50-300m of height, but in sum it will be enough.

Voith and Siemens will be more than happy to produce those Turbines.

Reducing energy consumption is also an option. Likely not the most popular one. But living in balance with the environment instead of a constant minus in energy resources should at least not be completely ignored. We don't need the amount of energy we use - it's just comfortable and nice.

Maybe France will build more nuclear plants and sell the power to Germany.

It currently looks rather that France is not going to build any more nuclear power plants but rather wants to extend their use of renewable energies - which are cheaper than new nuclear power plants.

Climate change is wreaking havoc on existing plants, too. The rivers they use to cool them are getting too warm and they're having to shut plants down over the summer (when they actually need the power).

It is rarely noted this downside of nuclear. Yes, they can produce electricity 24/7 at full power... until they don't. If there is a technical problem, they have to shut down. As you said, there are environmental conditions forcing them shut down. And if a nuclear power plant shuts down, typically a whole GW or more is dropped from the grid. France has recurrently shortages in electricity production, if too many nuclear power plants are off the grid. In the last winter, in Germany about 50% of the nuclear power plants were off grid for various reasons (mostly maintenance) too.

I didn't know that gas was more expensive than coal in Germany. It's cheaper in the USA; a lot cheaper. But then we have chosen to implement fracking and Europe does not.

I'm very supporting of Germany's carbon tax and renewable goals, but the fracking bans and the shutting down of nuclear plants seem to be doing themselves more harm than good in the medium term.

Germany is importing gas, while we have our own brown coal - huge power plants are sitting close to the mines. The imported gas comes to large parts from Russia - the US is also trying to increase gas sales to Europe.

Germany has multiple square miles of open-cast lignite mines feeding straight into their coal-fired power plants. Incredibly cheap, far more environmentally destructive than coal in general. (A German YouTube user I follow posted a really good video of the endless barren wasteland where German countryside and villages used to be, but he seems to have taken it down.) I believe they've shut down essentially all of their traditional underground black coal mines for cost reasons.

There's geopolitics involved as well: I believe Europe gets most of its natural gas from Russia, and they would rather move away from that if they could for strategic reasons.

Its funny when I talk to people. I'm like lets buy modern nuclear from china. We can fix this whole energy emission problem in a couple of years.

"Balbab nuclear waste balbal".

Ok. Fine. Whatever. Lets build gas plants, we can do it quickly and we will massive reduce CO2 and lots of other bad stuff until it can actually be done with renewables.

"Balbalbab CO2 Blabalba"

Ok so you will only accept money being invested in renewable energy even if they will not be able to replace coal in many, many years.

"Balbabla more solar blablaba"

That conversation is so infuriating to me because the very same people are to ones who basically want to go all Manhattan project on global warming. I just don't understand that mindset.

I don't know how this is an answer to my comment. Care to clarify?

And in the end: are you willing to pay for the electricity more? - - no way!!

It's like a religion but without knowing the holy book. Nuclear is the answer or someone better find out how to store big amounts of energy if we want to have it all solar.

As a French person, I can't help but think that this is but temporary. The Germans are extremely smart when it comes to long-term vision, they've always been. I don't doubt for a second that their transitioning away from nuclear will pay dividends on the long run and they'll be on the forefront of that green revolution eventually.

The fact that they have a very strong industry to back up any effort to steer production to greener means of production and consumption is very encouraging for everyone. I hope they succeed.

No it will not not 'pay dividends' in the long run because the coal they are burning now instead of perfectly fine nuclear plants will already be in the air.

No amount of future renewable energy justify this policy move.

But I think they know that, yet have chosen a path that is feasible both socially and economically. The end goal hasn't changed, I still think they're in the process of making a transition that (hopefully) will serve as a template for the rest of us Europeans on the long run. The approach is radically cynical and pragmatic, but I think the future will go to prove that it was the best way forward.

I'm saying that as a citizen of a country that has deep involvement and investment in those "perfectly fine nuclear plants". I can tell you that the dramatic aging of some of the most ancient nuclear facilities in the country is worrying (to say the least) and the shady business we have to get into to get (and dispose of) the needed fissile material is a terrible burden on our ability to be a voice for good on the world scene.

Is burning coal the perfect solution? Surely not. Yet, our neighbors beyond the Rhine are already world-class producers of solar panel, they've steered away from nuclear energy and their ability and willingness to explore energetic alternatives is an encouraging sign for our collective future.

So again, I hope they succeed.

Coal power is about economics, not energy. Germany could easily cover its energy demands. In a wurst case scenario (german pun intended), France and Hungary are able and willing to sell nuclear power.

I think a big thing is the demand of having 100% uptime of the grid for everyone.

If there was a list where you could sign up and get paid for having something like an hour of notice until a power cut of one or two hours I think it would be doable to be less perfectionist about this requirement and actually save a lot of peak demand resources and dirty back-up plants.

That would be impossible to get through. Currently we’re trying to get downtime to below 5 minutes per year for the average German (it’s at 17 minutes per year currently). That’s 4 nines of reliability, with a move to 5 nines. For every citizen. Many people will not even see any interruption for many years.

This means that Google will be more often down for you than your power.

Going from that standard to the constant failures you suggest would be impossible.

The only energy dense alternative to nuclear fission is nuclear fusion. But it is nowhere near completion for upcoming decades. And nuclear energy plants are very complex things, require a lot of high-tech materials, skilled experts and so on... so if you stop it once, regaining everything domestically would be impossible - the only way would be to buy technology from other, smarter countries, who continued developing nuclear plants.

Smarter countries like France, which struggle to build the EPR, which has been designed three decades ago?

Currently France is busy dealing with the EPR problems AND coming up with money for their old reactors - extending their lifetime, getting rid of the oldest ones AND finding money for replacement reactors.

The problem: this is all payed/run by the government -> the tax payer pays, but has little influence. We are not talking about 'free market' or anything similar. This is top down, monopolistic, corruption ridden.

The current energy landscape in Germany already has been decentralized, is smaller, renewable, diverse and it opened up markets for energy competition - basically incompatible with a top-down, centralistic, monopolistic, government run nuclear landscape like in France.

The new EPR is extremely expensive and difficult to built. The last generation is not running and it is already obsolete. Not so smart.

I actually did out the math, and per tonne of silica (quartz) vs tonne of uranium ore mined, silicon has about 5x as much energy as uranium in a breeder reactor.

Compared to current reactors, the silicon metal in a solar panel will produce ~500x more energy per kg. Note that this doesn't count the silica used in the glass covering etc. Solar should be considered right up there next to nuclear in terms of energy density, at least as far as mining is concerned.

I've done this math too, and my results show that silicon is well short of uranium (though far above fossil fuels).


- 20% capacity factor for solar

- 25 year lifetime at nominal capacity factor

(In practice, most panels work for more than 25 years, but also lose a bit of power output over time due to e.g. fogging of glass covers and cracks in cells from thermomechanical fatigue. I'm fudging the two factors together.)

As of 2016 it takes 4.8 grams of silicon, on average, to manufacture one watt of silicon PV capacity:


That means that one kilogram of silicon made into PV can produce (1 / 4.8) * 24 * 365 * 25 * 0.2 = 9125 kWh of electricity over its lifetime. For comparison, one kilogram of natural gas will produce ~5.6 kWh of electricity when burned in a combined cycle gas turbine plant.

One kilogram of uranium produces about 38300 kWh of electricity over its lifetime, using these numbers:


The lifetime electricity yield from a kilogram of uranium is about 4.2 times as much as that from a kilogram of silicon.

EDIT: oh, my mistake! You were comparing ore volumes. Medium grade uranium ore contains less than 1% uranium, while quartzite is super-abundant and contains more than 45% silicon. That accounts for your ratios.

It also has to be enriched from the .72% natural concentration of U-235 and U-234. The SWU (energy) that goes into that is negligible, but the concentration process isn't perfect and you still need several times more natural uranium to produce something that can be used in a reactor (3-4%).

I used a 33-40 year lifetime weighted by measured degradation rate[1]. Interestingly, NREL blames a lot of the capacity loss on the degradation of solder interconnections. I also used real insolation values in four regions of the US and 15%-23% (median to high efficiency) efficient cells, but assumed perfect MPPT tracking. I did guesstimate the amount of silicon though, by assuming 60-200 micron panels, which according to your link is off by a factor of 4-10x.

So in the end real world solar loses to fusion (obviously) but beats light water reactors handily. It's initially a tossup when compared to breeder reactors, but only if you neglect silicon recycling (should that happen). At that point fission obviously loses.

[1]: https://www.nrel.gov/pv/lifetime.html

The World Nuclear numbers use mined natural uranium on the input side, so enrichment losses are implicitly included for nuclear.

There are a lot of different PV degradation mechanisms. Most of them have known engineering solutions. I personally think that some modules installed today will have an operational lifetime in excess of 50 years, but I'm conservative when it comes to picking defensible numbers for extrapolation.

Did you account for cell-to-module energy losses and inverter loading ratios > 1 when you made your estimates? I chose 20% capacity factor, despite published national (US) EIA numbers in excess of 25% for utility scale projects, because EIA reports AC (post-inverter) numbers. With typical utility scale inverter loading ratios now at 1.3 or so, the module-level capacity factor is more like 20%.

None of these issues change your major conclusions. I'm just going into details because I rarely find anyone else interested in the subject matter.

I think you could publish this as a short paper if you did it rigorously enough. And feed it to the media to boot.

> I don't doubt for a second that their transitioning away from nuclear will pay dividends on the long run and they'll be on the forefront of that green revolution eventually.

According to the article they are doing it to avoid pissing off voters in coal country

By Panicking over a tsunami in Japan when Germany can never have tsunamis - id call that silly

Didn't Fujiyama fail because the tsunami took out power to the plant and took out their backup generators?

Germany may not be able to get tsunamis, but are tsunamis they only thing that can take out power and take out the backups?

There was an excellent episode of Nova fairly recently (within the last year, I think) on nuclear power. It covered Fujiyama and other conventional designs, and then spent a lot of time on upcoming safer and more economical designs, and the large number of nuclear power startup companies that are working on them.

For example, one design involved a liquid fuel that has to be held in a container that has a high volume to surface area ratio in order to sustain a chain reaction. The design had such a container, connected via a pipe in the bottom to another container with a shape that cannot support a reaction.

During normal operation the fuel is kept in the top container by a plug in the pipe. The clever part is what that plug is made of it. It is frozen fuel, kept frozen by cooling coils around the pipe.

If the plant loses power the plug melts, and the fuel drains. This is inherently massively safer than conventional plants. Instead of always being on the verge of disaster, relying on active controls to keep that at bay, the newer designs require active controls to keep running. The failure modes are to stop running instead of to run out of control.

> Germany may not be able to get tsunamis, but are tsunamis they only thing that can take out power and take out the backups?

That’s exactly the issue. All the plants are at rivers. Most directly in the floodplains. With backup generators that end up covered by water during the floods. With floods every autumn.

A river flooding is not the same order of magnitude (probably by more than 1) as a tsunami - so care to share any shutdowns of German nuke plants caused by river flooding ?

BTW my first Job was at a world leading hydrodynamics org in the Nuke and Computer modeling section

The problem isn't the scale, it's that the pennycutters decided to build the backup generators so low that they'd get flooded.

And they have been many times.

Just that previously, in those cases, the grid was still up, and the reactors running.

If the reactors were in progress of being shut down, and the connection to the grid severed, this could have become the same issue as with Fukushima.

Nitpick: Fujiyama is the beautiful volcano, you're talking about the province of Fukushima.

There's an interesting real time map of energy production across Europe that illustrates the problem quite well :


Nordic countries and France stand out (because of hydro and nuclear power, respectively), while the bad apples are in Eastern Europe (especially Poland and Estonia).

Germany does badly given its relative wealth, though.

what an amazing resource, thanks!

The fact that coal usage is actually declining was mentioned obliquely in paragraph 7.

Virtually the entire article is cheerleading hard for nuclear.

Not mentioned is also the fact that the UK is building a new nuclear plant and it's very expensive. Significantly more expensive than the equivalent in wind/solar would have been even if you assume that they do not continue to decline in price (which they probably will).

The UK needs to keep nuclear skills for their military.

Germany does not need that technology, it has neither nuclear weapons, no nuclear weapon production, nor nuclear powered submarines.

"Looking ahead, the best way to ensure that coal-fired electricity plants keep closing is a rising price of carbon. On that front, there is good news: Promised reforms to the European Union's cap-and-trade system would shrink its chronic oversupply of emissions permits. By 2020, according to an analysis by Bloomberg New Energy Finance, this should triple the price of carbon to 24 euros a ton -- high enough to push all European countries away from coal.

If Merkel acts on the proposal to close those lignite-powered plants, she'll give this overdue shift some fresh momentum."

This? I think most of these are plans and speculation.

I visited Germany last summer and was amazed by how many windmills there were. Everywhere I looked there was a windmill. Obviously this was a country on the forefront of clean energy.

Imagine my surprise when my father-in-law took us to see the open pit mines and drive through the towns, entire towns, that had been moved to make way for coal excavation.

Interesting fact - USA despite its cheap natural gas burns more coal per capita than Germany.

See chart:


Germany should also do better however.

I think this map is relevant to the discussion.


Check it out at different time of the day and night to see the changes in energy sources.

They should have subsidised the renewable engeries much longer.

Now we went from nuclear back to coal, which doesn't help anybody.

When they started to subsidise solar and wind, I hoped in the next decades we would have a clean country, but then they stopped it and now we are stuck with coal for much longer than needed :\

One of the problems with renewables is that they require extensive (aka costly) maintenance before they've actually offset their own construction cost. I read an article a few years back where one of the examples was that most wind power plants are only profitable after ~15-20 years but require costly maintenance at the 5-10 year mark and from there onward.

Can anyone comment about how liquefied coal is currently used or could be used? As I understand, the resulting products burn much cleaner.

I'm not sure if this would reduce their CO2 emissions, but it should at least reduce other pollutants.

The current coalition negotiations between the four parties expected to form a government also include shutting down more coal power stations.

The Greens demand twenty to be shut down, the others want to go slower.

Well they just had to close all those nuclear reactors. By contrast France is doing just fine with ~70% nuclear power.

Let's also not forget German car makers forcing the EU to dilute emissions limits. All very well having recycling bins all over the place, but when push comes to shove, the attitude is apparently !!!! the environment.

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