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Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Why Germany said no to nuclear power

Angela Merkel's decision to phase out nuclear power stations is a cynical exercise in realpolitik, says Daniel Johnson.

Why Germany said no to nuclear power
'Politics is the art of the possible," said Bismarck, the first German Chancellor. His present-day successor, Angela Merkel, knows perfectly well that her decision to phase out all nuclear power stations by 2022 makes no scientific or economic sense. In fact, she said so herself as recently as two months ago, when she promised that Germany would not let itself be rushed into abandoning nuclear power by the Fukushima accident in Japan. "I am against shutting down our nuclear power plants only to have atomic power imported into Germany from other countries," she told the Bundestag in March. "That won't happen on my watch."
Well, as so often happens to politicians, she has been forced to eat her words by political necessity. An irrational fear of nuclear energy runs deep in Germany, and electoral defeats for Chancellor Merkel's conservative coalition at the hands of the Greens have convinced her that it is no longer politically possible to hold the line. As Bismarck might also have said: saying no to nuclear technology may be unreal, but in Germany it is realpolitik.
The nuclear debate in Germany has always been about much more than the relative merits of different forms of power generation. The enduring influence of romanticism, the love of forests and the worship of nature all contribute to the highly charged atmosphere in which the issue is discussed. The Nazis knew how to tap into this nature mysticism, yet they also secretly pursued nuclear weapons – despite publicly dismissing the "Jewish" physics on which the technology was based.
Unlike Japan, Germany surrendered before atom bombs could be used against its cities, but during the Cold War the nation was divided by the Berlin Wall and Germans knew that their country was a potential nuclear battleground. American, British and French forces on German soil were equipped with nuclear weapons to deter a Warsaw Pact invasion. While Konrad Adenauer, West Germany's postwar leader, was desperate to join this nuclear club, his Nato allies only permitted Germany to possess nuclear power, on which the resurgent German economy rapidly became dependent for cheap energy.
At first, nuclear power was seen as peaceful, in contrast to nuclear weapons. But as anti-Americanism emerged on the German Left as a by-product of the 1968 student rebellions, so too did resistance to nuclear power as a symbol of capitalism, which was now equated with militarism.
In the mid-1970s, so-called citizens' initiatives began to organise protests at nuclear plants. Their symbol, a laughing sun with the sloganAtomkraft? Nein Danke ("Nuclear power? No thanks!"), appeared on stickers and T-shirts everywhere. Anti-nuclear protest was suddenly cool.
Hence by the late 1970s, German public opinion was turning against nuclear power. Belatedly, the far-Left leaders of the student movement capitalised on this popular cause to create the Greens, the world's first major environmentalist political party. The terrorism of the Baader Meinhof gang had turned out to be a dead end, but the politics of anti-nuclear protest had a lasting appeal to middle-class Germans. In the propaganda of the Greens, Nato Cruise and Pershing missiles stationed in Germany were indistinguishable from the plants that produced cheap electricity.
Then came Chernobyl. The meltdown of an antiquated Soviet reactor in 1986 caused such hysteria in Germany that the nuclear industry has never recovered, despite the fact that fears of radioactive clouds proved greatly exaggerated. Green politics gained new momentum: "Red-Green" coalitions of Social Democrats and Greens began to be formed in the German states and eventually, in 1998, Greens took office at federal level, too.
By this time climate change had taken over as the fashionable new cause for environmentalists, bringing with it the problem of how, without fossil fuels or nuclear power, energy supplies could be maintained. Despite its promise to close down all nuclear plants, the coalition of Social Democrats and Greens had no alternative policy, because "renewables" simply could not provide sufficient cheap, reliable energy. After Merkel took over in 2005 as leader of a coalition with the Social Democrats, she quietly reversed plans to phase out nuclear power. Even today, domestic nuclear plants supply about a quarter of all electricity in Germany.
Now, however, she has taken an irreversible decision to distance her Christian Democrats from a political association that is far more toxic than any nuclear fallout. In doing so, she has succumbed yet again to the hypocrisy that surrounds this issue in Germany.
Take Iran. For decades, German industry has assisted Iran's "peaceful" pursuit of nuclear power, even though it has been obvious that the Islamic Republic's aim was to develop nuclear weapons. The computers that ran the Iranian nuclear facilities until they were sabotaged by the Stuxnet virus were supplied by Siemens. At international conferences, Germany adopts a high-minded stance on nuclear proliferation as well as nuclear power, but in practice German exports take priority over the security of Israel and other neighbours of Iran.
Or take France. In public, President Sarkozy and Chancellor Merkel are diametrically opposed on the nuclear power issue. But in reality, her decision to get out of the nuclear power business means that France will be supplying a growing proportion of German energy needs over coming decades. Most Germans are either unaware of the fact that much of their energy is imported from French, Swiss or Polish nuclear plants, or they just don't care, as long as the reactors are sited far from their own back yards. Germany has become a nation of nuclear nimbys.
So should it matter to us if Germany chooses to impose unnecessary costs on its own industrial and domestic energy consumption? Germany is the largest economy in Europe and the European Union has a habit of imposing German prejudices on the rest of its member states. Enemies of nuclear energy will be emboldened to pressurise other governments, including our own, to follow the German lead.
Ironically, not all Greens share the conclusion the German government drew from Fukushima. Our own George Monbiot, a Green fundamentalist if ever there was one, has been persuaded to drop his opposition to nuclear power by the facts of the case. This is his logic: if an ageing nuclear plant, incompetently managed and with obsolete safeguards, is hit by one of the worst earthquakes in recent history, yet hardly anybody is killed, then we must conclude that nuclear power has a lot to be said for it.
Logic, however, had little to do with yesterday's announcement: realpolitik dictated the decision. The grandchildren of the Nazis, born long after the war, have made the fatal mistake of identifying evil with a particular technology, rather than with the human beings who make use of it.
Germany is one of the most admirable countries in the world, but Germans, like other nationalities, are not immune to irrational attitudes. Decent Germans have reason to worry about the fact that, according to a recent poll, nearly half of their compatriots express anti-Semitic opinions, such as that Israel is conducting a war of extermination against Palestinians, or that "Jews try to take advantage of having been victims during the Nazi era".
But Germans have no reason to fear nuclear power. Mrs Merkel's appeasement of nuclear hysteria is disturbing far beyond Germany's borders because it represents a capitulation to irrationalism by the leader of a nation that once led the world in science and technology. The land of Leibniz and Humboldt, of Goethe and Gauss, is now indulging the fantasies of cynical scaremongers.
Daniel Johnson is Editor of 'Standpoint'

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Carbon capture schemes could create 5,000 Scottish jobs

More than 5,000 Scottish jobs could be created if three proposed carbon capture and storage (CCS) schemes go ahead, according to a new study.
Scottish Enterprise has looked at the potential economic impact of CCS projects at Longannet, Peterhead and Hunterston.
The research also suggests CCS developments could boost Scotland's economy by more than£3bn.
The findings are being presented at an energy conference in Aberdeen.
CCS is a process involving the capture of CO2 (carbon dioxide) from power plants and other industrial sources for safe storage in sites such as depleted oil and gas fields.
The proposed CCS facilities at Longannet in Fife, Peterhead in Aberdeenshire and Hunterston in Ayrshire, if fully developed, would test and demonstrate the technical and commercial aspects of CCS technology.
The Scottish Enterprise study found that up to 4,600 jobs could be created during the construction phase of the projects to 2020, with a further 454 operational jobs supported when the sites were up and running.
Another key finding of the research, published at the All Energy conference, was that the CCS projects could boost the Scottish economy by £2.75bn, generating an additional £535m per year during their operational lifetime.
Hunterston would benefit most from jobs during construction, as the project is linked to a controversial plan to build a new coal-burning power station.
However, it would be worth less than half of the £270m annual economic value of Longannet.
'Immediate benefits'
Adrian Gillespie, from Scottish Enterprise, said: "CCS is acknowledged as having an important role to play in supporting Scotland's ambitious emission reduction targets, however, to become commercially viable, demonstration projects such as the three proposed Scottish projects are critical.
"The far-reaching impacts revealed in this study underline the potential of carbon capture and storage, not only in long term economic and environmental terms but also in the shorter term, delivering significant immediate benefits for the Scottish economy."
He added: "We want to see a number of CCS demonstration projects developed in Scotland and are working with our partners in industry, in the UK Government and in Europe to help make that happen."
Scotland is recognised as having a competitive advantage in CCS and the potential to become a global leader in the field.
It has been estimated, in separate research, that CCS could support up to 13,000 new jobs by 2025, including exporting Scottish-based skills and technology across the world.
The three Scottish based demonstration projects are still all in the running to secure EU funding from the New Entrants' Reserve programme, which has been developed to support low carbon demonstration projects across Europe.

LNG market growth to double value of Australia's resources sector to $70bn in 3 years

Crispin Murray, head of equities with BT Investment Management, said the nation's $35 billion investment will skyrocket to $70 billion as liquefied natural gas exports ramp up to China and to other emerging markets. He described it as "a unique period"."It's a huge uplift," Mr Murray said following an investor breakfast in Brisbane.
Pluto LNG project, liquefied natural gas, Woodside"You want to strike while the opportunity is there. The world needs new sources of energy."
Queensland would be a "big beneficiary" of the boom as work continued to remove export bottlenecks, such as the port expansion in Gladstone.
The flow-on effects will cascade through numerous industries contracting for parts of the work, including engineering firms, service and maintenance companies and logistics operators, he said.
For investors, key opportunities will be found in companies surfing the wave propelling China, India, Brazil and other emerging economies.
New energies such as LNG will also offer huge upside potential.
"We're comfortable that China can keep growing," Mr Murray said.
He pointed to China's social housing program which has envisaged construction of a staggering 35 million new apartments over the next five years. Even if that target is unattainable, he said the nation's insatiable hunger for coking coal and iron ore will remain unchanged.
India also offered investors vast possibilities and was "an important source of growth", Mr Murray said. He likened the country to where China was 10 years ago, although not as resource intensive and held back by infrastructure limitations.
While India benefited from being the world's largest democracy, he said protracted tendering made it harder to carry out projects than in a one-party state such as China.
Much like the "two speed economy" at play in Australia, Mr Murray said there was a similar dynamic in the world economy pitting emerging nations against the more developed old guard.
Events such as Europe's debt woes, the US housing market slump and Japan's devastation from earthquakes and tsunami are having a greater impact on equities because of globalisation, he said.
These calamities have created uncertainty and "extra volatility", deterring more people from investing. But at the same time, they have created opportunities since some equities are undervalued, Mr Murray said.

Japan LNG imports surge, supporting global prices

LONDON -(MarketWatch)- Japan's imports of liquefied natural gas surged 23% in April compared with the same month in 2010, after the March earthquake and tsunami shut down several of the country's nuclear reactors, according to data published late Monday by ship tracking service Waterborne.
Analysts said this elevated demand will continue this year and next, absorbing all of the surplus LNG supply that consumers had hoped would keep down prices in the other big LNG market--Europe.
"While a year ago some market commentators talked of the global glut of LNG, we believe the focus for investors should be on the impending global LNG shortage," Bernstein Research said in a note to clients.
The surge in Japanese LNG demand was "driven primarily by the shutdown of a significant amount of Japan's nuclear generating capacity," the report from Waterborne said. To replace the lost nuclear energy, Japan had little choice but to turn to oil- or natural gas-burning power plants fuelled by seaborne imports.
Japan imported 6.65 million metric tons of LNG in April, an increase of 1.247 million tons on April 2010, Waterborne said. Most of the extra supply came from Russia and Qatar, Waterborne said in a report.
"Based on recent announcements from the Japanese government to shut down a number of nuclear plants that could be at risk for a major earthquake or tsunami, Waterborne projects that LNG imports to Japan are likely to continue to rise in 2011," the report said.
This means Japan is likely to absorb all of the world's surplus LNG supply this year, analysts at Barclays Capital said in a report. In 2012, LNG demand growth may exceed that of supply, leading to even tighter markets, it said.
North America is unlikely to be affected by this, because thanks to the boom in shale gas production it doesn't need to import LNG, Barclays said. However, Europe will probably see LNG imports drop later this year, it said.
This will be a dramatic reversal because Europe had been the chief beneficiary of abundant LNG supplies for the last couple of years, notably from the world's largest LNG producer, Qatar.
Now Qatar is promising extra LNG supplies to Japan, drawing supply away from Europe, said Robert Johnston, director of Energy and Natural Resources at Eurasia Group. "This diversion could tighten up U.K. markets this summer as the incremental Qatari cargoes heading to Japan probably would have otherwise ended up in the U.K. market," he said.
The U.K.'s largest gas supplier, Centrica PLC (CNA.LN), has already warned that prices are rising, "in the wake of the natural disaster and subsequent nuclear issues in Japan and unrest in North Africa and the Middle East."
"In the U.K., the forward wholesale prices of gas and power for delivery in winter 2011-2012 are currently around 25% higher than prices last winter," the company said earlier this month.
Higher U.K. prices will also have a knock-on effect in Europe. "The U.K.'s LNG import terminals have acted as a gateway for gas to reach Continental markets," Barclays said.
Barclays expects the U.K. benchmark gas price, the National Balance Point, to rise 38% in 2011 compared with 2010, and increase by another 17% in 2012. The NBP is closely correlated to the main European gas benchmarks in the Netherlands and Belgium.