Angela Merkel's collation government has pledged to
decommission all of Germany's seventeen nuclear reactors by
2022. This historic announcement comes in the wake of a global
reaction to the events in Fukushima, Japan. The crippled reactors
have caused many governments to rethink their nuclear strategy.
Before the Fukushima disaster, resurgence in the popularity of
nuclear energy had been characterized as "the nuclear
renaissance". The industry had finally recovered from the
Chernobyl disaster, over quarter-century before. Around the world,
nuclear energy appeared to be a viable solution in the effort to
reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Globally, 2010 saw fourteen
new reactors under construction, compared with three in 2005. That
number will assuredly fall this year as governments rein-in their
enthusiasm for nuclear energy.
In Ontario, support for nuclear energy appears comparatively
stable, if not untouched. The current Liberal government remains
committed to the province's nuclear portfolio which
provides nearly 50% of the province's energy. More
interestingly, the opposition Progressive Conservatives appear
equally supportive of existing nuclear infrastructure. Recently,
Progressive Conservative Leader, Tim Hudak, has defended nuclear as
"the workhorse of [Ontario's] system",
characterizing it as "affordable" and
"reliable". Indeed, both parties endorse plans to build
new reactors and refurbish ageing ones. Therefore, despite
potential as a wedge issue in the upcoming provincial election, it
would appear that nuclear energy's future will continue
unscathed in Ontario.
Globally, nuclear energy's future remains uncertain as
two questions loom.
First, will others follow Merkel's lead? The 2022 plan
is merely a retraction of an earlier plan to extend the life of
Germany's aging plants. An industry analyst at TD
Securities asserts, "Germany has long been regarded as
'weak' on nuclear power and was not expected to be a
significant factor in reactor growth over the medium to longer
term". Former International Atomic Energy Agency head, Hans
Blix has characterized the Fukushima tragedy as, "[a] bump in
the road, but not the end of the road". Nevertheless,
Germany's announcement has sent shockwaves through the
nuclear industry as insiders await any indication that others may
Second, how will this impact GHG reduction targets? Most experts
agree that nuclear energy is a central element in the struggle to
cut green-house gas emissions in half by 2050. The
International Energy Agency has concluded that
"nuclear's share of the global power supply would have
to grow to 24 per cent from 14 per cent currently to achieve that
goal". Some environmentalists tolerate nuclear's
role in GHG mitigation. However, most continue to oppose it due to
safety and waste management concerns.
In Germany, the 2022 plan calls for increased reliance on
renewable energy and stringent conservation measures. However, not
everyone is convinced of the plans merits. Sweden's
Environmental Minister has written off the plan as
"unrealistic", asserting that it will result in greater
dependence on imported coal and nuclear-generated electricity from
In the end, the nuclear energy has reached a cross-road. On the
one hand nuclear's future and its role in GHG mitigation
appears secure, in Ontario and most other nuclear jurisdictions. On
the other hand, Germany's bold plan has the world watching
to see if there will be any followers of Merkel's lead. For
the time being, commentators will wait to see if Fukushima is
"a bump in the road" or "the end of the road"
for nuclear energy's global aspirations.
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