A Gre­en Pyr­rhic Vic­to­ry

Handelsblatt Global Edition Magazine - - Front Page - BY FRANK SIE­REN

Chi­na leads a glo­bal re­nais­sance of nu­cle­ar po­wer. Too bad that Ger­ma­ny kil­led off its nu­cle­ar in­dus­try.

Nu­cle­ar po­wer is un­der­go­ing a glo­bal re­nais­sance. In Sep­tem­ber, the Bri­tish go­vern­ment ap­pro­ved con­struc­tion of the first nu­cle­ar plant in de­ca­des. Thir­teen other Eu­ro­pean Uni­on coun­tries are plan­ning new re­ac­tors. Around the glo­be, the World Nu­cle­ar As­so­cia­ti­on lists 59 re­ac­tors un­der con­struc­tion and ano­ther 160 plan­ned, en­ough to rai­se glo­bal nu­cle­ar ge­ne­ra­ting ca­pa­ci­ty by 60 per­cent.

The boom is dri­ven by the world’s hun­ger for en­er­gy and the need to find clea­ner al­ter­na­ti­ves to co­al and other fos­sil fu­els. New tech­no­lo­gy is on its way as well. In the U.S. and Ca­na­da, bil­lio­nai­re in­ves­tors li­ke Bill Ga­tes and Jeff Be­zos ha­ve ba­cked start-ups de­ve­lo­ping next-ge­ne­ra­ti­on nu­kes.

But no coun­try is pres­sing ahead as hard and fast as Chi­na. Over the next 10 ye­ars, Chi­na alo­ne plans to build 60 new re­ac­tors. Bei­jing nee­ds to sup­p­ly its en­er­gy-hungry eco­no­my whi­le at the sa­me ti­me cur­bing to­xic pol­lu­ti­on, thus con­clu­ding that the­re is no al­ter­na­ti­ve to nu­cle­ar en­er­gy in the fo­re­see­able fu­ture. Even with tho­se 60 new plants, nu­cle­ar po­wer will on­ly sup­p­ly 10 per­cent of Chi­na’s electri­ci­ty, com­pa­red to around 20 per­cent in the Uni­ted Sta­tes and over 70 per­cent in Fran­ce. So the­re is a lot mo­re room for growth.

Alas, all this con­struc­tion and new tech­no­lo­gy is now lost to Ger­ma­ny, on­ce ho­me to one of the world’s stron­gest nu­cle­ar in­dus­tries — one which al­so had the world’s best safe­ty re­cord. Ins­tead, the fu­ture of nu- cle­ar en­er­gy will be de­ci­ded in Chi­na. Al­re­a­dy, Chi­ne­se com­pa­nies ha­ve mo­ved bey­ond buil­ding their own coun­try’s plants. Chi­na is al­so in­vol­ved in fi­nan­cing, con­struc­ting and ope­ra­ting po­wer plants el­sew­he­re around the world. The first new Bri­tish plant, worth $24 bil­li­on, will be built by a Fran­co-Chi­ne­se con­sor­ti­um.

That Ger­man com­pa­nies no lon­ger play a ro­le in the in­dus­try is loss en­ough — in re­ve­nues, jobs and ex­per­ti­se. It’s al­so a bit­ter iro­ny that Ger­m­ans no lon­ger ha­ve any say in set­ting nu­cle­ar safe­ty stan­dards. Af­ter all, it was the fe­ar of safe­ty risks that led to a na­ti­onwi­de pa­nic in Ger­ma­ny af­ter the 2011 Fu­kus­hi­ma nu­cle­ar ac­ci­dent in Ja­pan, and to An­ge­la Mer­kel’s snap de­ci­si­on to pha­se out nu­cle­ar po­wer. Chi­na, with its prio­ri­ty to grow at all costs, may weigh safe­ty risks dif­fer­ent­ly, and ha­ve less abili­ty to en­force its stan­dards. So­me of our Eu­ro­pean neigh­bors, too, re­gard safe­ty mea­su­res su­per­fluous that in Ger­ma­ny would be con­side­red es­sen­ti­al.

To their cre­dit, Ger­man an­ti-nu­cle­ar pro­tes­tors hel­ped en­su­re that our safe­ty stan­dards be­ca­me so tough. (Cre­dit for sa­fe nu­cle­ar po­wer al­so goes to Ger­man en­gi­neers.) Though the­re is a nas­cent pro­test mo­ve­ment in Chi­na, it’s un­li­kely that Chi­ne­se ac­tivists will be able to ex­ert the sa­me kind of po­wer. If Ger­ma­ny we­re still a tech­no­lo­gy le­a­der and glo­bal contrac­tor, we would to­day ha­ve the po­wer to help set safe­ty stan­dards – even in Chi­na. In pus­hing Ger­ma­ny over the edge and out of nu­cle­ar po­wer, the Ger­man Gre­en mo­ve­ment’s grea­test tri­umph may turn out to be a pyr­rhic vic­to­ry.

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