Jan Peter Schemmel: Goodbye, nuclear power – unsustainable, uneconomical and high-risk

Is renewing our reliance on nuclear power really worthwhile? What can we learn by looking at other countries and at new reactor designs?

Jan Peter Schemmel is the CEO of the Öko-Insitute

Cross-posted from the website of the Öko-Institute


In Fukushima, there was core meltdown after an earthquake a good 10 years ago. In Zaporizhzhia, Russia’s war of aggression puts a nuclear power plant at risk. Meanwhile, France was forced to shut down its reactors in summer. The reasons? Sudden hairline fractures and a lack of cooling water due to the heatwaves. Is nuclear power really safe and reliable?

There are good reasons why a (second) decision to phase out nuclear power was taken in Germany. Safety is one of the most important considerations: we need only glance at Chernobyl or Fukushima to see the potentially catastrophic impacts of this technology.

The unwavering fixation on this technology seen in some quarters is hard to comprehend. Quite obviously, it is not sufficiently safe and reliable. It is also far more expensive than renewable energy technologies. At a time when budgets are tight as a result of several concurrent or successive crises, we can no longer afford the luxury of high-cost forms of energy generation. And a further aspect: nuclear power is not a good fit for our future energy system. A nuclear power plant is far too inflexible – it cannot be powered up or down rapidly as necessary to supplement a wind- and solar-based energy supply. Contrary to appearances, nuclear power is not a clean source of energy – nor is it sustainable, despite its inclusion in the EU taxonomy. Besides the safety issues, its drawbacks include the environmental damage caused by uranium mining and the risks associated with the use of civilian nuclear technology for the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

From my perspective, the debate in recent months has been frustrating. This has to do with the history of the Oeko-Institut, whose founding 45 years ago can be traced back to the anti-nuclear campaign. What annoys me most, however, is the style of the media debate, which rarely relies on facts. It also wastes energy on a topic whose relevance has passed. Many young people recognised this long ago. A Fridays for Future activist told me during our conversation that she would much rather focus on future-oriented topics than revisit issues that have already been resolved or be compelled to fight old battles again. All our energies are needed to support more rapid expansion of future-fit technologies. Nuclear power is not among them.

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