Don't mention the war - on nuclear power stance unworthy of smart nation

21:43, Jun 08 2011

You've got to hand it to the Germans - this strange race has a weird tendency of periodically being unable to see the wood for the trees. It is extraordinary that such an intelligent, industrious and cultured people can occasionally get the big things so spectacularly wrong.

The Wisdom of Crowds doesn't seem to work in Germany. Eighty years ago they failed to spot what a megalomaniacal monster Hitler was until it was too late, and now they are flummoxed by nuclear energy.

Angela Merkel's decision to phase out/close down their nuclear plants defies rational explanation. David Lange succeeded in brainwashing this country with a series of smart-arse one-liners and half truths, but such nonsense doesn't normally wash in a country that has operated nuclear plants without incident for decades. Germany knows a lot about them, given that about 30 per cent of their power is nuclear. The latest U-turn is the result of Fukushima, and Merkel is being forced by MMP- driven electoral necessity to pander to the ravings of a numerically illiterate minority, who have whipped themselves up into an "emperor's clothes" fury over an invisible bogey man. Like us, Germany too is hamstrung by MMP.

What Fukushima really demonstrated is that a 40-year-old nuclear power plant can withstand a Richter 9 earthquake, and if the Japanese had bothered to "tsunami-proof" the cooling water pumps - by putting a simple concrete shield over them - the current problems wouldn't have arisen. But Fukushima also demonstrated the stupidity of locating a coastal power plant in the Bay of Sendai, which has a long history of tsunamis. Rather than explaining these simple facts, a sensationalist, and intellectually dishonest media has done its best to scare ignorant masses witless worldwide.

Not for nothing is the word tsunami Japanese. The reason all European languages have had to co-opt it is you don't get tsunamis coming down the Rhine or out of the North Sea. Major earthquakes only happen in seismically active regions, and the nearest active seismic zone to Northern Europe is thousands of kilometres away in southern Italy or Turkey.

What is equally puzzling is that Germany is a front-runner as a nation convinced of anthropogenic climate change, and the need to cut CO2. They are world leaders in developing renewable alternatives - they don't need James Lovelock's doomsday predictions to convince them that coal must be phased out.


Unlike New Zealand, where we can probably achieve a reliable 90 per cent renewables generation mix, large industrial countries like Germany have few choices for reliable CO2-free spinning reserve 24/7 - just nuclear, hydro, or geothermal.

Germany has long had preferential tariffs for solar and wind generation, and they have committed huge R&D resources to drive down the cost of solar PV power - despite not being the first country that comes to mind in topping the sunshine polls. Solar PV costs may well be falling fast, but that counts for nothing on grey days.

What is even weirder is that much of the rest of Europe seems to have finally woken up to the need for CO2 reduction, and many adjoining countries are in the process of reviving their nuclear programmes. The UK is - hardly surprising given that much of the power used in London comes under the channel from French nuclear plants in Normandy. If nuclear plants have to be so close, why not build your own and be doubly certain that appropriate safety regimes are being followed, rather than importing from France?

The French have been more than 80 per cent nuclear for decades and expect to make a killing selling proven technology. Poland has stated that they are going to commence nuclear construction.

On overcast, windless days - a not unusual situation in Northern Europe - Germany is going to be in the absurd situation of having to buy nuclear power from both its next-door neighbours - France to the west and Poland the east. This must be obvious to Chancellor Merkel, who is a trained physicist and who can count.

About the only other country that comes to mind with such senseless objection to nuclear power - but where solar will eventually be economic - is Australia.

Given the irrationality floating about on this subject, it's a good thing that nuclear plants don't make economic sense in New Zealand, because if they did you have to admit that when it comes to mind-numbing stupidity on such matters, as a nation, we are as bad or worse than the Germans.

Taranaki Daily News