36 years after the Chernobyl disaster – is there still a future for nuclear power?

April 26 is the 36th anniversary of the Chernobyl meltdown – and this year is a particularly bitter reminder of the dangers of nuclear power. At the same time, it is repeatedly said that humanity needs nuclear energy – in order to become less dependent on energy imports, in order to protect the climate. Is continuous use really an option? Our guest author Professor Dr. Rainer Grishammer has a clear and good opinion on this.

This year marks the 36th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. The still radioactive ruins of the reactor are a monument to the dangers of nuclear power – followed only 25 years later by the Fukushima disaster. The situation in Chernobyl at the moment is particularly explosive, and the dangers of radioactive effects in the war zone are as precarious as they are dangerous.

The Great Avalanche in Fukushima was also a terrible disaster that continues to this day. The highly radioactive mixture of molten nuclear fuel, steel and concrete has not yet been recovered. One billion liters of highly radioactive water is stored in drums on site. More than 120,000 people lost their homes. The super-break in the high-tech nation of Japan also made it clear that such accidents could happen anywhere in the world – including Germany.

Germany’s last nuclear power plant is scheduled to close at the end of 2022, but Germany is still surrounded by old nuclear power plants that are particularly vulnerable to failure. However, the high risk of failure due to an accident during electricity production is by no means the only major problem. In addition, there is human radiation and emissions from uranium ore mining, unjustified final storage of highly radioactive waste, risk of potential use for building atomic bombs (proliferation), and risk of terrorist attacks and military attacks in crisis areas (eg Ukraine, Middle East, Korea) .

Climate protection argument

Despite all this, the additional use of nuclear energy is being used again and again – in recent years mainly with the climate debate, and especially now with the possible interruption of Russian energy supplies. In fact, carbon dioxide emissions when using nuclear power are as low as about 30 grams of carbon dioxide per kilowatt-hour, which is similarly low as with photovoltaics or wind power. Carbon dioxide emissions here come from the extraction of raw materials and processing of uranium ores, complex construction and disposal of nuclear power plants.

Renewable energies are low in emissions – nuclear energy too. This is still risky. (Photo by CC0 Pixabay Oimheidi)

Demand for the continued use of nuclear energy is often boosted by reference to new “totally safe” and inherently safe (so-called) 4th and 5th generation nuclear power plants. However, some of these supposed futuristic concepts have failed decades ago as pilot plants (Kalkar, HTR), others exist only on paper, and if they really turn out to be a marvel, they will only be able to go into serial production in 25-30 years – sure Too late to prevent massive global warming (or to make Germany less dependent on energy imports.

Instead, countries like the United States and France have decided to increase the lifespan of older and more dangerous nuclear power plants from 30-40 years to 50 years. The next great crash is pre-programmed.

Nuclear power is slow and expensive

Next to first The counter-argument, the high risk of accidents and the eventual storage still not being secured, there are three other and perhaps more decisive reasons at the moment for the inability of nuclear power to prevent global warming.

Then Secondly The global expansion of nuclear power, even based on current technologies, would take two to three decades – a very long time to prevent global warming. Currently about 440 nuclear power plants operate worldwide and produce about 10 percent of the world’s electricity requirements. However, about 4,000 nuclear power plants will be needed to cover 100% of the electricity requirements, and about 1,000 nuclear power plants at 25%. And if – as planned – mobility is converted to electric mobility, building heating for electric heat pumps and chemical production of electricity and raw materials based on hydrogen, then there will be many nuclear power plants.

Tihange nuclear plant
Tihange nuclear plant in Belgium – is this what our future should look like? (Photo: CC0 Public Domain/Unsplash – Ben Kerckx)

third It soon becomes clear that no safe enough sites will ever be found for a large number of new nuclear power plants. A look at the world map shows a large number of politically unstable countries, crisis areas and earthquake zones – this raises the question of where thousands of new nuclear power plants should be built. In any case, nuclear power plants require very high technical standards, very good training, very good management and a very safe country environment. Where are nuclear power plants supposed to be built then? In Afghanistan or Pakistan? in the Near East? in Sudan? In besieged Ukraine? In South Korea threatened? In the Asian earthquake areas? Or a few hundred each in Germany, Switzerland or Sweden?

the fourth Nuclear energy is simply too expensive and getting more expensive, while renewable energies for photovoltaics and wind energy are getting cheaper and cheaper. The new “modern” EPR (“European pressurized reactor”) reactors from French manufacturer Framatome in Flamanville in France and Olkiluoto in Finland are expected to triple the cost planned at €11 and €10 billion, respectively. Both systems are also associated with significant deficiencies in quality and safety. Completion of both stations was delayed by several years: Olkiluoto was scheduled to start in 2009, and Flamanville in 2012.

Nuclear energy is not safe
Chernobyl and Fukushima should be a monument to us about the dangers of nuclear energy. (Photo: CC0 Public Domain/Unsplash – Vladislav Cherkasenko)

Great Britain guaranteed a purchase price of 11.2 cents per kilowatt-hour plus a 35-year (!) inflation surcharge for the new nuclear reactor at Hinkley Point. Renewable systems can only dream of such support. And yet – that is, with old nuclear power plants – nuclear power is no longer feasible. The cost of producing a megawatt-hour of nuclear energy is currently around 57 euros, a megawatt-hour of onshore wind energy about 42 euros, and one megawatt-hour of solar energy 47 euros (As of March 2021). With the correct cost of final storage and true insurance premiums, the costs of nuclear power would of course be much higher.

Protecting the climate through renewable energies

So the only answer to the false question “global warming or nuclear power?” It could only be: “Climate protection and renewable energies! This is also especially true for Germany. Last year, the share of renewable energy in electricity production was about 42 percent, and nuclear energy was 12.6 percent. At about 21.5 percent, the share of energy energy was about 42 percent. Wind alone doubles the share of nuclear power.If opponents of wind power had not taken large-scale military action against low-risk wind power for two decades, the entire proportion of nuclear power would have already been replaced by wind power.

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Keywords: energy, renewable energy, climate protection, power generation

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