Major German Firm Abandons Nuclear Power

September 19, 2011

New York Times:

BERLIN — Siemens, the largest engineering conglomerate in Europe, announced Sunday that following the German government’s decision to phase out nuclear power by 2022, it would stop building nuclear power plants anywhere in the world.

“The chapter for us is closed,” Peter Löscher, the chief executive of the Munich-based conglomerate, said in an interview with Der Spiegel, the weekly news magazine. He emphasized the company’s commitment to the rapidly growing renewable energy sector.

He said the decision was also “an answer” to political and social opposition to nuclear power in Germany.

Siemens, which built all of Germany’s 17 nuclear power plants, is the first big company to announce such a shift in strategy. But other German companies involved in the nuclear energy industry are also reconsidering their options.

In May, Chancellor Angela Merkel said that the accident at the nuclear power station in Fukushima, Japan, had convinced her that Germany should look to other power sources. The decision represented a turnaround for Mrs. Merkel, who a year ago agreed to prolong the life of the country’s nuclear plants by an average of 12 years.

Nuclear power accounts for 23 percent of electricity production in Germany. The government is putting in place an ambitious plan to increase the share of electricity generated from renewable sources to 35 percent by 2020, up from around 18 percent now.

Mr. Löscher called the government’s plans for renewable energy “the project of the century.” Although the government’s goal has met with skepticism in some quarters, he said the 35 percent figure was “achievable.”


68 Responses to “Major German Firm Abandons Nuclear Power”

  1. It’s true that we have no commercial thorium reactors, but that doesn’t mean that such reactors are technologically difficult to build. Worldwide, at least 13 reactors have used thorium fuel in some capacity, and some of these in India are still operational. The development of thorium-cycle reactors was hindered by the fact that they have no military value — which also makes them great for anti-proliferation reasons. But the world thought that they had proliferation under control with NPT, and supplies of uranium seemed adequate for a long time, so there was simply no perceived need to exploit the thorium cycle. Finally, the safety advantages of thorium reactors were not considered significant because everybody considered LWRs to be quite safe enough.

    Overall, the technical challenges facing the development of thorium fuel reactors are no more daunting than those that faced LWR development. Progress has been slow only because nobody is spending much money on the problem. However, indications are that the Chinese are spending serious money looking into this, so in a few decades we may see China leading the world in sales of thorium-fueld reactors, making money hand over fist.

    • BlueRock Says:

      If only we could power the planet on empty, evidence-free rhetoric from the nuke cult then the world would be golden. 😉

      * “Thorium has been considered as a nuclear fuel since the very beginning of the atomic energy era. However, its use in early reactors, whether light-water cooled or gas cooled, has not led any commercial nuclear reactors to operate on a thorium cycle. … Irradiating thorium produces weapons-useable material. … the technology of thorium fuel does not offer sufficient incentives from a cost or waste point of view to easily penetrate the market.”

  2. Given the amount of research that has been carried out on thorium fuel cycles to date, I would not call the matter “evidence-free”. There are in fact mountains of evidence regarding the use of thorium in a variety of circumstances; India has been using thorium as an additive to commercial power LWRs for years now. Since you place such emphasis on proving links, here’s one:

    It details the various considerations involved in the thorium fuel cycle. Moreover, you have been rather selective in your quotations from the MIT fuel cycle study. Here is some more material from that study:

    “Considerable research has been conducted in the past to investigate feasibility of thorium cycle [IAEA, 2005, Todosow et al., 2005, Kim and Downar, 2002]. Thorium fuel has been irradiated and examined in a variety of reactors, including the US and German gas cooled reactors featuring coated particle fuel, in addition to boiling and pressurized water reac- tors at Elk River and Indian Point in the US. These studies showed very good performance of Th fuel as a material [Belle and Berman, 1984], in both oxide form in LWRs as well as in carbide form in gas cooled reactors. Economics favored the uranium fuel cycle and the work was discontinued.
    Most notably however, the feasibility of a closed Th – U-233 fuel cycle has been demon- strated by the Light Water Breeder Reactor (LWBR) program in a pressurized water reactor at Shippingport, Pa. The results of this program confirmed experimentally that net breeding of U-233 (with a fissile conversion ratio of just over one) can be achieved using a heteroge- neous uranium-thorium core in a thermal spectrum light water reactor [Atherton, 1987].”

    It is clear from this statement that there is, contrary to your claim, a goodly amount of evidence regarding the use of thorium fuel.

    I agree that, lacking military funding, the use of thorium has not been thoroughly explored. This does not mean that it is without merit. At present we simply haven’t done enough research to show that it can be done safely, cheaply, and securely. The POTENTIAL of the technology remains promising, but we are in no position to make a commitment to that technology. In any case, deployment is decades away, as I noted earlier.

    By the way, both Russia and India also have energetic thorium research programs. I’ve always discounted Russian nuclear technology after the idiocy of Chernobyl, but perhaps I’m being too harsh. The Indian effort is progressing slowly but steadily, and has produce no significant leaps in the last decade or so, but they’re getting enough experience with it to put them in a good position.

    And don’t forget that there are many ways to utilize thorium, so we’re talking about a number of possibilities, each with its own strengths and weaknesses.

  3. Perhaps you should have clicked on my link — you would have learned that my source is from the National Academies Press, a component of the National Academy of Sciences, in a volume entitled “Internationalization of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle: Goals, Strategies, and Challenges (2009)” authored by the Nuclear and Radiation Studies Board. I hardly think that constitutes an “evidence-free” claim, as you so erroneously declare.

    • BlueRock Says:

      Chris, you seem to struggle to understand many things – not least that thorium MSRs do not exist… other than in the imagination of techno fantasists on the internet. 😉

  4. True, thorium MSRs do not exist — but did you not read my statement that

    “And don’t forget that there are many ways to utilize thorium, so we’re talking about a number of possibilities, each with its own strengths and weaknesses.”

    There are lots of technologies that don’t exist — that doesn’t mean we should not explore their possibilities, else there would be zero technological progress.

    • BlueRock Says:

      Good luck with your “possibilities” and dreams. Let us know when they become *realities* then informed, rational people will consider them as part of a solution.

  5. Actually, there are lots of informed rational people who consider thorium to have a lot of potential, and many of them are backing it up with real money: China, Russia, and India are leading the charge on this. Everybody understands that it’s a few decades down the road, but getting from here to there is just a matter of investment, as with so many other energy sources. Solar PV was “pie in the sky” for decades, and it’s still not price-competitive, but it’s close enough that we can be confident that continued growth will bring down the price to competitive levels.

  6. I’m tired of your prattle, BlueRock. I could bury you in links all day long, but you don’t read them anyway, so there simply is no point in continuing this discussion.

  7. Bruce Miller Says:

    Holy Fuuuucknuts! Does that mean the American Scientists who claimed they had such an animal up an running were bald faced liars? Not uncommon in the American Scientific community? They were to put something similar, and nuclear, in a huge bomber aircraft at one point, but never did – they lacked bomb grade plutonium?to sell the idea to the military? They are better at expressing themselves or they are a bunch of American liars! Or: I really didn’t understand this or Wiki’s dissertation either. Poor me, poor you, who cares, as long as the real truth comes out, even if it comes out of a successful re-engineering of and American theory, or proven fact! The world is in dire need of a great deal of energy! Soon! And, food too! And fresh water!

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