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UK anti-nuclear energy activists – will have to be “monitored” carefully after Fukushima – Courtesy of STRATFOR/tempora/prism – use TOR Browser people!

For London, the issue ultimately is one of energy independence. British reserves of North Sea natural gas – which in 2008 supplied the United Kingdom with 45 percent of its electricity generation – are dwindling, going from 760 bcm at the end of 1998 to 340 bcm at the end of 2008. The
United Kingdom will increasingly have to rely on imports from Norway to satisfy its natural gas needs. Nonetheless, importing natural gas from Norway is far different than importing it from Russia, which means that nuclear energy is less of a national security issue for the United
Kingdom than it may be for other European countries. This means that the United Kingdom has alternatives to nuclear power, which casts the fate of the nuclear industry in the United Kingdom into doubt. Despite the strong interparty consensus on the issue, therefore, the United Kingdom remains a country where public opinion – and anti-nuclear energy activists – will have to be “monitored” carefully to gauge which way the country will go following the Fukushima incident.

Nuclear Power in Europe after Fukushima: A Special Report


Released on 2012-10-18 17:00 GMT


Email-ID 1346076
Date 2011-03-16 01:33:45

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Nuclear Power in Europe after Fukushima: A Special Report

March 16, 2011 | 0026 GMT
Nuclear Power in Europe after Fukushima: A Special Report
The Emsland nuclear power plant in Lingen, Germany, in 2010
Related Special Topic Page
* Japanese Earthquake: Full Coverage

The 27 countries in the European Union derived 31 percent of their
electricity needs and 14.6 of their primary energy consumption from
nuclear power in 2010. In roughly the last eight years, there has been a
considerable momentum on the Continent to boost that capacity. Countries
that had halted the construction of new reactors (Germany and Sweden) or
effectively abandoned nuclear power altogether (Italy and Poland) had
been considering reversing their moratoriums, phase-outs and outright

Three factors spurred the momentum toward a nuclear Renaissance in
Europe: Almost 25 years of accident-free nuclear industry since the
Chernobyl disaster in 1986; technological improvements in the design of
reactors; and a geopolitical impetus to wrestle the Continent from the
grip of Russian energy exports following a number of politically
motivated Russian natural gas cutoffs. There has also been a concerted
push by Europe’s indigenous nuclear energy industry to open up the
potential EU market of 400 million people for the sale of its latest
generation of nuclear reactors.

The March 11 9.0-magnitude Tohoku earthquake in Japan and its subsequent
effect on the Fukushima Daiichi and Daini nuclear power plants has
dampened – and even ended – enthusiasm for nuclear power in some
European nations, however.

The combination of the powerful earthquake and massive tsunami that hit
Japan’s Pacific Coast where the two affected power plants were situated
sparked the nuclear crisis in Japan. The Fukushima accident is still
ongoing and developing. It is at this point assumed that the reactors in
the nuclear plants in question were shut down immediately following the
seismic activity, as they were designed to. The onsite backup generators
that were supposed to cool down the core also shut down about an hour
after the earthquake, however. The leading theory is that they were
damaged by the subsequent tsunami.

Nuclear Power in Europe after Fukushima: A Special Report
(click here to enlarge image)

Europe is un likely to see an earthquake of similar proportions and even
less likely to see a similar tsunami. Even so, a tradition of
anti-nuclear industry activism in a number of European countries and
contemporary political dynamics could engender a move against a European
nuclear revival post-Fukushima. It is important to emphasize that not
all European countries are similarly situated. France and Germany, for
example, approach nuclear energy from diametrically opposed
perspectives. In France, the nuclear power industry – and military
capacity it spawned – for decades has been perceived as a guarantor of
French independence and global relevance, whereas in Germany, nuclear
power has negative connotations due to the country’s nearly 50-year
status as the likely nuclear battlefield between the Cold War
superpowers. Environmental movements accordingly have evolved along
different lines, and national psyches approach nuclear power from
starkly different perspectives.

The European countries below are listed from most to least likely to see
plans for nuclear projects altered in the wake of the Fukushima


Germany’s nuclear program was the first to be politically damaged by the
Fukushima accident. German Chancellor Angela Merkel on March 14 put on
hold for three months plans approved narrowly by the Bundestag in
October 2010 to prolong the life of Germany’s 17 nuclear reactors by an
average of 12 years, a decision that is still contested before the
highest German constitutional court. On March 15, Merkel extended the
German government response by stating that the nuclear reactors that
began operating before 1980 would be shut down and remain so for the
period of the announced three-month moratorium. The Isar 1 nuclear
reactor in the city of Essenbach has begun preparation for a shutdown.
Government officials in the state of Brandenburg and the city of Berlin
have also asked Poland to reconsider its plans for a nuclear revival.

Nuclear Power in Europe after Fukushima: A Special Report

The decision by Berlin is not surprising to STRATFOR for two reasons:
long-held anti-nuclear sentiment in the country that draws its roots in
the country’s Cold War role and the contemporary political environment.

The Cold War and the status of Germany as a pseudo-independent
battleground between East and the West have had a profound impact on
German sentiment toward nuclear power. Peace and Green movements that
emerged from Europe’s 1968 student protests were grafted on to the
reality in West Germany that the country lacked real say over its
foreign policy and would most likely be first to face annihilation in a
nuclear exchange between the two Cold War superpowers. Nuclear power –
and the hosting of U.S. nuclear weapons in West Germany – became the
ultimate symbol of Berlin’s subservience to U.S. interests. The 1979
Three Mile Island incident in the United States and the 1986 Chernobyl
disaster in what was then the Soviet republic of Ukraine greatly
reinforced this anti-nuclear sentiment. No reactors were built in
Germany after Chernobyl. To this day, Germans remain far more skeptical
of the benefits of nuclear technology – from food irradiation to nuclear
power plants – than most Europeans.

Strong environmentalist and anti-nuclear-weapon sentiment in Germany led
to the emergence of Germany’s Green Party, which is one of the world’s
most successful environmentalist parties in terms of actually getting
into government. The Green Party negotiated the Nuclear Exit Law during
its time in a governing coalition with the center-left Social Democratic
Party (SPD) in 2000. The law called for all German nuclear reactors to
be shut down by 2021. Merkel had to uphold the agreement when she
entered a Grand Coalition with the SPD in 2005 but was vocal about the
need to change it throughout the duration of her party’s uneasy marriage
with the center-left. She ultimately got her way following September
2009 elections and the formation of a new coalition with the Free
Democratic Party (FDP).

The 12-year extension, however, has been largely unpopular in Germany.
Polls have shown a consistent unease about nuclear power. The 2010
Eurobarometer study – which has standardized methodology across 27 EU
member states and is therefore the only Continent-wide study we can rely
on for an assessment of European attitudes toward nuclear power – shows
52 percent of respondents in Germany wanting the current level of
nuclear power reliance reduced – by far the greatest percentage among
major European countries. Considering that the study was conducted more
than a year before the Fukushima accident, it is likely that the
sentiments toward nuclear power have only turned more negative. Merkel
has countered that nuclear reactors need to be extended to act as a
“bridge” to renewable energy. Her opponents among the environmental and
left wing parties have argued that the bridge argument is a pretext for
the center-right to facilitate the development of new power plants in
the future.

Nuclear Power in Europe after Fukushima: A Special Report
(click here to enlarge image)

The center-left argument may not be far from the truth. While Germany is
indeed one of the global leaders in renewable energy – it derived about
16 percent of its electricity from renewable sources in 2009 – it is
difficult to see how it would manage to replace the approximately 27
percent of electricity derived from nuclear power with renewable sources
by 2035. Although studies show that it would be possible to accomplish
that task, the shutting down of reactors according to the Nuclear Exit
Law would have begun already in 2010, with four in total shut down by
2011. Replacing so much lost capacity on the front end with renewable
sources would be difficult if not impossible. The alternative is turning
to other conventional sources – namely Russian natural gas – to fill in
the gap left by abandoning nuclear power. Despite Berlin’s generally
positive relationship with Moscow, Germany does want to give Russia any
more of an upper hand in its energy relationship. Germany already gets
around 40 percent of its natural gas from Russia, a number that may very
well increase with the coming online of the 55 billion-cubic-meter (bcm)
Nordstream natural gas pipeline at the end of 2011. Merkel may therefore
have gambled on the issue for the sake of German energy independence,
calculating that popular sentiment would catch up to the geopolitical
needs of the country at some point.

This calculation has now backfired on Merkel. The German government
already has suffered a blow to its popularity due to Berlin’s signing
off on the eurozone bailouts of Greece and Ireland and Merkel’s
insistence on defending the euro in perpetuity with a major 500 billion
euro ($698 billion) bailout facility. There have been a number of other
problems for Merkel’s CDU along the way, from general infighting of the
coalition government to a number of high-profile resignations, namely
that of President Horst Koehler, the forced resignation of Defense
Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, and the announced retirement of
Bundesbank President Axel Weber.

Germany is set to hold seven state elections in 2011; the first on Feb.
20, held in the city-state of Hamburg, saw Merkel’s CDU defeated.
Merkel’s policy of extending the life of current reactors has come at a
very bad time, especially with a critical state, Baden-Wuerttemberg,
holding elections March 27. Baden-Wuerttemberg is home to Stuttgart, one
of Germany’s most important industrial centers, has the third-largest
GDP and population and is considered a conservative stronghold that the
CDU has ruled since 1953. It is also the site of four major reactors –
and the site of a March 12 protest of nearly 50,000 against the
extension of nuclear power that was planned before the Fukushima
accident. The situation for Merkel’s CDU in the state is very serious,
perhaps prompting the CDU Baden-Wuerttemberg environment minister to say
in an interview March 14 that the two oldest reactors in the state could
be closed down in 2011 if Merkel continues the moratorium, likely a move
to improve the CDU’s electoral chances two weeks before the election.

Merkel is likely positioning the three-month suspension on extending the
life of reactors due to the upcoming state elections in Saxony-Anhalt on
March 20 and in Baden-Wuerttemberg and Rhineland-Palatine on March 27,
buying time until the Fukushima accident blows over – though it is
unclear if or when that will happen. Furthermore, with sentiment against
nuclear power in Germany ever strong, and now resurging, the industry’s
future in Germany looks very grim. The wider question is what will
happen to Merkel’s CDU if the accident leads to a loss of
Baden-Wuerttemberg. Such a loss would bring back memories of the SPD’s
loss of its traditional power base of North-Rhine Westphalia in 2005, a
loss that ultimately forced Gerhard Schroeder to call early federal
elections leading the way for Merkel to assume power. Political
instability in Germany at a time when the eurozone crisis is ongoing
would have ramifications far beyond just the nuclear industry. While
ultimately the alternative to CDU – an SPD-Green government – would have
a policy toward Europe not much different from Merkel’s, the election
campaign in the midst of the ongoing European economic troubles would
have the potential to cause uncertainty. Stakes in Germany are therefore
larger than just for the future of nuclear industry, but the future for
nuclear power certainly does not look good in the EU’s largest economy
and country.


Italy was one of the first European countries to build nuclear reactors
for power generation. Unlike the rest of Europe, it did not feel
impelled to commit itself to nuclear power after the 1973 oil shocks due
to its relatively plentiful natural gas deposits, which at the end of
1988 stood at 330 bcm. In 1988, Italy’s domestic natural gas production
was able to satisfy about 40 percent of its natural gas consumption, but
by 2008 that percent has dwindled to just less than 11 percent. Because
of the decision not to build any nuclear power plants in the window
between 1973 and 1979 (prior to the Three Mile Island incident), before
the public opinion in Europe soured on nuclear power, Italy now finds
itself importing around 14 percent of its electricity needs from abroad
and in absolute terms is one of the largest electricity importers in the
world. Its large electricity imports mean Italy has higher electricity
costs than most of its European neighbors.

A high reliance on natural gas for electricity generation also means a
high reliance on natural gas imports. While Germany imported in 2008
more natural gas from Russia (36.2 bcm) than Italy (24.5 bcm), Italy is
far more dependent on natural gas for electricity generation than
Germany (54 percent compared to only around 18 percent, respectively).
It imports 29 percent of its natural gas needs from Russia, a number
likely to rise in 2011 due to the interruption of Libya’s exports to
Italy via the Greenstream underwater pipeline. This means that Italy not
only imports electricity directly from its neighbors – most actually
comes from French nuclear power plants – it also imports the bulk of the
natural gas used to generate electricity from its natural gas-burning
power plants. The unrest in North Africa has highlighted the danger of
relying on energy imports from unstable regimes like Libya.

Nuclear Power in Europe after Fukushima: A Special Report
(click here to enlarge image)

All this makes Italy the European country most in need of nuclear
energy, but the anti-nuclear movement in Italy has long been active and
powerful, and it became stronger following Three Mile Island and
Chernobyl. In the 2010 Eurobarometer survey, 62 percent of Italians
wanted to see Italy – which generates no electricity from nuclear power
– either reduce or retain the same level of electricity generation from
nuclear power.

The center-right government of Silvio Berlusconi – which is becoming
increasingly unpopular due to a number of scandals and ongoing economic
troubles – could now see the opposition use its May 2009 decision to
reverse the ban on nuclear power to rally disparate forces against the
government. While enthusiasm for the center-left Italian parties is not
high, nuclear power is a clear issue that people can identify with and
rally around, allowing the center-left to mobilize against Berlusconi.
Furthermore, unlike most of their West European brethren, anti-nuclear
activists in Italy can point to regular seismic activity in their
country, particularly in Italy’s south as a reason to take the Fukushima
accident seriously.

Moreover, the Italian Constitutional Court ruled in favor of the
opposition’s call for a referendum on construction of nuclear power
plants in January, which means that a referendum on the question will
now likely be held between April and June. Popular angst against
Berlusconi’s government combined with the Fukushima accident could spell
an end to the nuclear revival in Italy when the referendum is held in

United Kingdom

There has been a consensus in the United Kingdom among the center-left
Labour party and center-right Conservative party that a return to
nuclear power is necessary for British energy independence. Like the
government under former Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown, the current
government favors building new nuclear reactors, and it wants to build
around 10 new reactors by 2020. Following the Fukushima accident,
British Energy and Climate Change Secretary Chris Huhne ordered an
official investigation to determine what London can learn from the
Japanese nuclear crisis on March 14.

The United Kingdom only derives 18 percent of its energy from nuclear
power, with one reactor built since the Chernobyl disaster. This is in
large part due to considerable public opposition to nuclear power.
Anti-nuclear protesters in the United Kingdom are among the most active
in Europe, and are notorious for at times using militant tactics. The
Fukushima disaster could rally nuclear opponents once again. The current
junior coalition member, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), has
traditionally been skeptical of nuclear power and has had to mute its
traditional views to become part of the governing coalition with the
Conservatives. Thus far, the LDP lawmakers have remained silent on the
issue and have not opposed the coalition consensus, but this could
change if the Fukushima accident begins to resonate with the public. The
LDP already has suffered a loss in popularity for working with the
Conservatives on a number of issues, and it may not be able to avoid an
argument with its senior coalition partner if it wants to hold on to
some semblance of its electoral base.

For London, the issue ultimately is one of energy independence. British
reserves of North Sea natural gas – which in 2008 supplied the United
Kingdom with 45 percent of its electricity generation – are dwindling,
going from 760 bcm at the end of 1998 to 340 bcm at the end of 2008. The
United Kingdom will increasingly have to rely on imports from Norway to
satisfy its natural gas needs. Nonetheless, importing natural gas from
Norway is far different than importing it from Russia, which means that
nuclear energy is less of a national security issue for the United
Kingdom than it may be for other European countries. This means that the
United Kingdom has alternatives to nuclear power, which casts the fate
of the nuclear industry in the United Kingdom into doubt. Despite the
strong interparty consensus on the issue, therefore, the United Kingdom
remains a country where public opinion – and anti-nuclear energy
activists – will have to be monitored carefully to gauge which way the
country will go following the Fukushima incident.


The Swedish center-right government of Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt
reversed a 1980 ban on nuclear power by a 174-172 vote in June 2010
following the Three Mile Island incident. At the time, it was feared
that the ban reversal would be short-lived, as national elections were
scheduled for September 2010 and Reinfeldt’s center-right coalition’s
future was uncertain. But Reinfeldt stayed in power, albeit in a
minority government. On the question of nuclear power, the government
has the support of the far-right Sweden Democrats. Therefore, the
lifting of the ban is, for the time being, secure. Reinfeldt said in an
interview March 13 that there would be no review and that the “decision
still stands.”

Unlike most European countries, Sweden actually had an independent
nuclear weapons program in the 1950s. Given its proximity to Germany and
Russia, Stockholm pursued a policy of neutrality backed by an aggressive
military posture and a domestic military industrial complex. Its reactor
at Agesta, now closed down, was widely believed to be created to produce
weapons-grade plutonium. For Stockholm, nuclear power was seen as the
ultimate guarantor of safety, even though it officially abandoned its
weapons program. Nuclear power, therefore, does not carry the negative
associations in Sweden as it does in Germany.

Sweden produces roughly all its electricity from nuclear power and
hydropower equally. The problem for Stockholm is that its hydropower
capacity has largely been tapped out, and the country has produced
roughly the same amount of electricity since its last nuclear reactor
came online in 1985. To boost electricity production, the country would
either have to import electricity – probably from Finnish nuclear power
plants – or natural gas from Norway or Russia. The government, however,
has made it clear that it does not want to boost the use of greenhouse
gases, an issue for which it has the support of environmental groups.

The strong support of nuclear power by a government that was just
elected – a government that is committed to reducing its reliance on
greenhouse gases – means Stockholm is likely to stick to its decision to
revive its nuclear industry, at least while the current minority
government holds power. Moreover, Stockholm can increase the capacity of
current reactors via improvements on the current plants and still make a
considerable impact on its electricity output. Therefore, it can avoid
the controversial issue of building new plants on new sites.


The Polish government only recently announced its decision to create a
legal framework for building nuclear power reactors. The decision was
made in February and will likely be voted on by the parliament in June.
Support for nuclear power is strong in Poland, with data from the 2010
Eurobarometer survey indicating that 30 percent of respondents wanted an
increased use of nuclear power, the highest results in the European
Union. With nearly 40 million people and Central Europe’s largest
economy (the European Union’s eighth largest), Polish entry into the
nuclear club is significant.

Poland never had a need for nuclear power plants because its plentiful
coal deposits have always provided it with ample supply of domestic fuel
for electricity generation. To this day, coal provides 94 percent of
Poland’s electricity. The Soviet Union planned to construct a nuclear
power plant in Poland, but the plans were abandoned in 1990 due to a
combination of lack of necessity, environmental fears post Chernobyl and
general anti-Soviet sentiment. The Polish public essentially saw nuclear
power as part and parcel of Soviet domination, and the half-completed
Zarnowiec plant was scrapped after half a billion dollars had been spent
on construction.

Today, however, nuclear power is seen as a way to escape dependence on
Russian natural gas exports. With the European Union pushing curbs on
greenhouse gases, Poland’s over-dependence on coal is seen as a
potential liability. Poland is therefore looking for alternatives in
shale gas exploration, liquefied natural gas and, now, nuclear power.
Until these alternatives are in place, Poland will have to increase its
dependence on piped Russian natural gas as it builds at least three new
natural gas power plants, one of which is planned to be built jointly
with Russia’s Gazprom by 2017.

With national security issues looming large, Poland has no intention of
abandoning its plans for nuclear energy, something Prime Minister Donald
Tusk made clear immediately after the Fukushima accident. Tusk feels
comfortable sticking to his decision because his main political
opponents at the upcoming general elections in October, the right-wing
conservative Law and Justice Party, have traditionally been pro-nuclear
power as well.


With 74 percent of electricity derived from nuclear power in 2010,
France is by far Europe’s most committed nuclear power user. For France,
nuclear power is not just about energy independence, but also about
global relevance. Its independent nuclear arsenal is seen as a guarantor
of its foreign policy independence and one of the pillars of its status
as a European power. The French public’s association with nuclear power
is therefore starkly different than that of most European countries,
certainly far different than Germany’s.

Moreover, the French nuclear industry is an important part of the
country’s prestige and its claim to still be a major industrial power.
Not only does nuclear power allow France to export roughly 3 billion
euros worth of electricity to its neighbors per year, it also allows
French companies Areva and Alstom to export their nuclear expertise
abroad. Following the Fukushima accident, French companies are the only
companies, out of the major global nuclear reactor manufacturers, not to
have experienced a major accident in their nuclear reactors (the United
States, Japan and Russia/Soviet Union have all experienced serious
nuclear accidents).

While we thus do not foresee the Fukushima accident changing France’s
reliance on nuclear power, it should be noted that France has only built
three nuclear reactors since Chernobyl (it has a total of 58), and only
has one planned and one currently in construction. In other words,
French nuclear reactor building suffered a setback due to Three Mile
Island and Chernobyl. Furthermore, public opinion in France is split on
the issue, according to the 2010 Eurobarometer results. There is strong
commitment to maintaining the current level of dependence on nuclear
power, but also a 37 percent approval of reducing the dependence. It is
likely that public opinion will remain divided, therefore locking France
into the status quo for the time being. While French President Nicolas
Sarkozy is quite unpopular, there are no upcoming decisions on the
nuclear question that would allow the issue to be used as a mobilizing
factor against his tenure. By the time France’s 2012 presidential
elections arrive, it is may be an ancillary issue.

Ultimately for France, there are no real energy alternatives. The North
Sea natural gas sources are inadequate to power both the United Kingdom
and France, and increasing its dependence on Russia and North Africa
would erode the energy independence that has been a core French national
interest since the oil shocks of 1973.

At the conclusion of the March 15 meeting of EU energy ministers, the
decision was unanimously reached to subject the European Union’s nuclear
reactors to earthquake stress tests to the magnitude of the earthquake
that struck Japan. The tests would be intended to prove that Europe’s
nuclear reactors are safe. Scenarios for the stress tests will also
include heat waves, tsunamis, terrorism and possibly power cuts.
Industry representatives backed the tests as well.

However, if the European Union is to learn something from its recently
conducted bank stress tests, which ultimately did little to reassure
investors of the soundness of Europe’s financial system, it is that it
is difficult to convince a public already skeptical via stress tests.
Opposition to nuclear energy has laid largely dormant in Europe for the
past 10 years, allowing confidence of governments looking for energy
independence and of industry looking for new markets to improve.
Fukushima, however, has shifted the focus of Europe’s mostly already
nuclear-skeptical public back to the industry. For some major countries
– mainly Germany and Italy – this may may not bode well for the nascent
nuclear revival.

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