Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The German Experience: Seen by Environmentalists, and Seen by Nuclear Opponents

Triple Falls, Dupont State Forest, North Carolina
From: Farmers, City Folk and Renewable Energy
at ANS Nuclear Cafe

I consider myself a pro-nuclear communicator, and I often blog about effective communication.  However, communicating effectively means considering your audience.  I have come to the conclusion that there are two kinds of people who are opposed to nuclear energy:
  • Environmentalists who have lumped nuclear with "other bad stuff," but may not have given the matter much thought. They often come to realize the role of nuclear energy in providing very low carbon electricity.
  • People who are just plain against nuclear energy. Period. End of story.
You have to know who you are talking to.  For example, these two groups will have very different assessments of the recent German experience.


Many environmentalists (people interested in a healthy environment) are beginning to embrace nuclear power.  The movie Pandora's Promise is about one such set of environmentalists.  Similarly, Armond Cohen, a leading environmentalist in California, noted that greenhouse gas emissions in California rose substantially when San Onofre went off-line. Cohen also realized that renewable sources, such as wind turbines, require huge amounts of land to make the same amount of power as a relatively small nuclear plant.

As described in this VPR interview, Cohen explains why he has reluctantly shifted from being an anti-nuclear activist to someone who now argues that we can't afford to dismiss nuclear power.

At the Washington Post last month, Stephen Stromberg wrote Why Environmentalists Should Hope Nuclear Power Sticks Around.  He illustrated his article with a chart showing the two low-carbon power sources in the United States: renewables and nuclear.  By 2040, U.S. renewables are expected go from producing 12% of our electricity (today) to 16% in 2040.   Nuclear energy's contributes 19% today and 16% in 2040. It is an important part of our low-carbon future.

Meanwhile, in Europe, greenhouse gas targets remain in place, but renewable targets are being scrapped.  Gail Marcus of Nuke Power Talk gives an excellent overview in her latest blog post: Good News From Europe: Reasoned Approaches to Energy Policy. 

Opponents of Nuclear Energy

At Canadian Energy Issues, Steve Aplin has several posts that show that Germany's greenhouse gas emissions have risen, despite their investment in renewables. This is because the Germans are phasing out their nuclear plants.  Two excellent posts are:
In the second post, Bas Gresnigt (from The Netherlands) comments that the German people are happy with the German electrical grid, because they are pleased to see nuclear be phased out.

The German Experience as an Opponent Experience

Which brings us to a question: what is the purpose of the German energy transition?  If it is about greenhouse gases, it frankly isn't working, as Steve Aplin (and others) point out.

But maybe it isn't about environmentalism, lowering the carbon footprint, or anything like that.  Maybe it is mostly about being opponents of nuclear energy. Rod Adams posted about fossil fuels versus nuclear energy: Smoking gun research continuing in earnest. This post was published in early December 2013, and now has 145 comments.

At the base of a turbine
Lempster wind farm
New Hampshire
I want to draw attention to one comment. Once again, Bas Gresnigt was commenting, and someone brought up the increased carbon plus increased electricity cost of the German experiment.  The question was

"Does the current German electricity market situation really make sense to you?"

Bas Gresnigt answered it as below (here's the link, so you don't have to read 145 comments.)
Here's his answer:

Very sensible market design.
You will agree if you measure that market with the German targets in mind (in order of importance):
1. Nuclear out
2. Democratize energy
3. 100% renewable
4. Less CO2
5. Affordable costs

I contacted Gresnigt and asked him if I could use this quote. He was kind enough to give permission, though he felt the brief statement of this quote was somewhat unfair to his arguments.  I hope he will comment on this blog post.

Back to Communication

People looking at the German experience can look at it as a colossal failure (higher carbon dioxide, higher prices) or a great success (phasing out nuclear plants). For a group for whom "anything is better than nuclear energy," no amount of communication is likely to make a difference.

For environmentalists concerned with land use and with greenhouse gases, nuclear communicators can use the German experience as an example of a situation in which, as they say: mistakes were made.


Howard Shaffer said...

As we have discovered over the years in Vermont, part of the anti nuclear movement is ABN - Anything But Nuclear.

It is emotionally drive.

The only approach is to keep trying, convince the rest, and defeat the antis politically.


Steve Aplin said...

I agree with Howard. On a personal/professional note, my strategy has been to reframe the debate, to make carbon reduction the issue.

That is because it is the issue.

I'm sure there's some famous strategist -- Clausewitz or Sun Tzu or Machiavelli or whomever -- who says something like "you're in a better position if you fight on the ground you choose, instead of fighting on ground your opponent chooses."

Nuclear fleets were built before there was concern about CO2 (carbon) emissions. That was because they fit perfectly within the regulated public electrical utility service delivery model. That model is: power to everyone, at cost plus (small but predictable) profit. That's why the grid is out in remote rural areas. Under that delivery model, wind and solar were instantly ruled out as too inefficient and therefore too expensive.

"Green" ideology has turned that service delivery model on its head. People have been prepared by years of uncontested propaganda to believe electricity should be expensive and used as little as possible.

Should we nuclear advocates undo that mindset? That would take literally years of massive effort. Or should we just go for the jugular and prove, using publicly available evidence, that the renewables myth is totally false in the area of carbon reductions?

Because, the public has also been prepared to believe carbon is bad. That's good for us, because we cannot fail to win the carbon argument.

Carbon is nuclear's trump card, and we should play it.

Bas said...

...renewable sources, such as wind turbines, require huge amounts of land to make the same amount of power as a relatively small nuclear plant.
NPP's generate ~2KW/m2 (excluding uranium mine and processing plant. Also excl. a share for the exclusion zones that nuclear created around Chernobyl and Fukushima).

The footprint of an 8MW wind turbine is ~400m2. So that is 20KW/m2.
A factor 10 higher power density.
Land around wind turbines is used as usual.
Note that offshore wind does not take any land (neither rooftop solar).

"renewables are expected go from producing 12% of our electricity (today) to 16% in 2040"
A 2009 similar Dutch report made same under-estimation regarding the share of wind+solar:
Costs of solar PV goes down with ~8%/year (in $/Kwh). Already during ~35years now.
Experts expect this to continue at least a decade due to yield improvements (from ~16% now towards ~40%) and production automation, etc.
Note that even N-Germany has lots of solar panels while it is at much higher latitude than Vermont.

Wind turbine cost prices are also coming down significantly, now already cheaper than fossil in some states.

" If it is about greenhouse gases, it frankly isn't working..."
That is a typical misunderstanding in English speaking countries. If one looks over a longer period, such as 2007-2013, which takes out stochastic fluctuations such as the weather, there is a clear decrease:
Note that coal not only generated 11% less, but it did that with new more efficient power plants (~55% versus the old ~35%), so the amount of GHG's by coal became ~15% less.

Bas said...

Targets of the Energiewende, illustration:
1. Nuclear: Although 1000miles away the Germans were hurt by Chernobyl, with a.o. significant more serious birth defects.

2. Democratize: The German utilities pushed nuclear against public opinion creating a.o. financial disasters. E.g. the final nuclear waste repository in 'stable' salt formations 600m below surface showed to leak. So the nuclear waste has to be excavated (tax-payers money).

3. Renewable: sustainability, saving natural resources for next generations, was already an important issue in Germany in the seventies.

4. Less CO2/GHG: Nowadays also becoming important, although there is some doubt about the IPCC conclusions (the cooling off of the last decade is no help).

5. Affordable costs: The main reason the transition speed is much lower than that in Denmark (that country will generate 50% of all electricity by wind turbines in 2020 and all electricity via renewable in 2040).
Germany decided in 2000 for 80% renewable in 2050. So the costs would stay affordable. They are less than 1% of the income of the citizen now. In 2000 when the Energiewende was decided the support was ~55%, during the last decade it grew slowly towards the ~90% now.

... German experience as an example of a situation in which, as they say: mistakes were made.
German's, incl. their scientists, consider it a big success (where is 90% support for nuclear?).
The German grid became 2 times more stable since wind+solar took steam!
The average total customer connection outage time went from 30min/year towards 15min/a now.

Even if one do not count the outages due to big weather events (such as the recent cold in Vermont), USA customer connections are 16 times less reliable: 120min./a down.

Reasons for the improvement in Germany:
– production fluctuations by solar and wind are highly predictable (grid management can see how a wind flaw passes its area, as actual production by wind turbines is shown to grid management), many hours in advance;
– solar and wind production is by many small units spread over a big area. So a disaster at e.g. a wind turbine hardly affects the grid.

Meredith Angwin said...

Once again, I must re-iterate that I do not post comments that attack Vermont Yankee, other nuclear plants, or their workers. Once again, I repeat that is not personal, and has nothing to do with who makes the comment.

Engineer-Poet said...

What amazes me is how Bas Gresigt can lie so easily:

"3. 100% renewable
4. Less CO2

Germany is burning more coal, which is LESS renewable and emits MORE CO2, and Bas insists the opposite.

His other clalims about e.g. birth defects and so forth have been refuted many times just in my personal experience, yet he keeps repeating them.  This is why I argue for banning him.  He has nothing to contribute except a study in abnormal psychology.

jimwg said...

Re: Howard Shaffer said...
"As we have discovered over the years in Vermont, part of the anti nuclear movement is ABN - Anything But Nuclear. It is emotionally driven."

No truer said. From what I've long witnessed the components of this range from Hiroshima bomb guilt to passions to banish the atom to erase WWIII nightmares, unfortunate personal radiological experiences, bad sci-fi influences and such, all fueled and fanned by outright malicious bogus nuclear/radiation information bordering hearsay masquerading as fact, like vaporware nuclear incidents and radiation casualties/victims which never allow themselves to be peer reviewed or examined by credible international professions, yet whose unquestioning believers will try to turn every pebble to nit-pick the slightest theoretical flaw or peril for any juice to push their implacable anti-atom passion/fetish to further corrupt fact and public opinion. It doesn't help when you have media and "educational" and oft dated science programming that's philosophically sympathetic so, tying the benefits of a indifferent and apolitical energy source with corporate greed which they are white knights at slaying. Some crusades need a heavy and villain in the world to fight to leave their mark on the world so it's very noble and caring and easy to go after nuclear, what its dark war origins and mystically malevolent powers. The failure for pronuclear advocates to constantly Demand public certified PROOF of allegations as nuclear-caused mass mutations has allowed antis to run roughshod totally unopposed and unchallenged has largely contributed to the public unease and cluelessness and gullibility in the US relating things nuclear. It can be reversed but only with incisive and aggressive public education action. Get the FUD out and we can get on with the nuclear Renascence.

James Greenidge
Queens NY

Meredith Angwin said...

I want to thank everyone for their comments.

I strongly disagree with Bas conclusions. I am also happy when people point out where his data is wrong. But I want to keep the conversation civil, so I hope there will be no more comments on mental state, etc.

Bas wrote comments on Adams blog. When I asked Bas if I could post those comments on my blog,we started an email conversation. After some emails back and forth, I have asked Bas to express his views as a guest post on my blog, probably next week (And now people think I have gone completely nuts, I know. ) Bas will have a guest post to express his views.

When he posts, I expect and even encourage people who disagree with him to post rebuttals...but...I will say it right now...the comments must be actual rebuttals, without name-calling. In other words, say that what he says is incorrect...that's okay. Say that he is a study in abnormal psychology...that is not okay and will not be posted.

Engineer-Poet said...

Meredith, to have civility you first need to have a commitment to truth.  Much better thinkers than I have concluded that persistent BSing corrodes the ability to tell the truth at all.  Giving a platform to such nonsense is a grave mistake.

Meredith Angwin said...

Hi Engineer-poet

This guest post idea was definitely a judgment call on my part, and it may not be the best call.

With that said, I want to say that in my opinion, this isn't a matter of Bas lying. He has certain opinions, and he chooses references that reinforce those opinions. We can show counter-examples and counter-proofs to his opinions and references, but calling him a liar implies he knows the truth but has chosen to lie about it. I don't believe that to be the case.


Bas said...

You are right; the “100% renewable” target should be “80% renewable in 2050”. Sorry.
It may be caused because I read a lot about the debate in the German scientific energy community about the best (least costs) methods to reach the 100% renewable.

CO2 and more coal burning.
This graph shows that over the last 6 years coal (and also CO2) decreased despite the closure of 8 NPP's in that period. If you don't belief the graph, you can download a PDF which shows all details regarding electricity generation at “”.
The fuzz about increasing coal created by a.o. Bloomberg, regards only fluctuations due to weather, etc.

the birth defects study
The only debunking remark I saw; “it is an ecological study”. While that remark is not quite correct, I want to stress that epidemiologic / ecologic studies are the only ones that can be used if one wants to measure the effects of the low level radiation to the population (unless huge amounts of money available). They did show many relevant connections such as that between Alzheimer and (non-fish) fat & calorie intake.

I prefer the study that I linked because its method is superior due to unique circumstances and the results are extremely significant:
Districts in Germany kept detailed administration of all serious birth defects (Down, congenital malformations, etc) since 1980. After Chernobyl some districts got radio-active rainfall (increase of 0.5mSv/a, ~30% compared to background) and other nearby, similar districts did not.
Only the districts with radio-active contamination (mainly Cs-137; ~0.5mSv/a) showed a very significant jump upwards of ~20% in serious birth defects! The nearby similar districts without that contamination had no change.
No sampling cofounding as all birth in those districts were included.

Note that these results are not far off those of the megamouse experiment at Oak Ridge if one applies LNT. They are roughly in line if one assumes an higher sensitivity with low levels of radiation than LNT which is in line with the indications in the last report (nr. 14) of the LSS regarding the atomic bomb survivors.

Many other studies show similar and other significant health effects of enhanced low levels of radiation after Chernobyl.