‘The discussion about nuclear energy continues to revolve around emotion’

Now that Putin is throttling the gas supply, many people are open to nuclear energy, writes editor-in-chief André Kesseler. Small modular reactors can accelerate this transition.

In Germany the discussion was perhaps even more emphatic than here. Nuclear energy or not became nuclear energy reluctantly in the 1970s. You had to do something to escape the stranglehold of the Middle East. And so there were seventeen nuclear reactors that, at the peak, met a quarter of the total German energy requirement.

energy gap

But about twenty years ago, the Schröder government decided to atomausstieg. That decision was later reversed, but after the disaster in Fukushima in 2011, the curtain fell for nuclear energy in the Federal Republic. Of the remaining power plants, the oldest eight were shut down within three days of the disaster, with the rest to follow as soon as possible. Brokdorf, Grohnde and Gundremmingen C closed at the end of 2021. Three are currently running: Neckarwestheim 2, Emsland, and Isar 2.

The ‘energy gap’ was largely filled with Russian gas. But with Putin cutting off the gas, the Germans are suddenly faced with a discussion that most of them never thought they would ever have again. Public opinion has turned again. Research shows that 87 percent of Germans want the nuclear power stations to run longer, for example to get through this winter.

Small in size and power

Meanwhile, France is investing heavily in nuclear energy. The country gets about 70 percent of its electricity from rapidly aging reactors and is allocating no less than 51.7 billion euros until 2035 to build new reactors. Nuclear power plants are now rather complex devices and therefore not very suitable for rapid course changes. Building one costs billions and takes decades.

But there are developments that can speed up that process. There are 72 projects worldwide, Teake Zuidema writes in his story, which are concerned with small modular reactors: small in size and power, modular and can therefore be built ‘on the assembly line’. You could put something like that anywhere in the country. Whether ‘we’ will do that too, remains to be seen. Because the discussion about ‘too yes or too no’ nuclear energy, however small and modular, continues to revolve around emotion.

This column can also be found in KIJK 10/2022, which can be ordered quickly and easily via the button below.

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