Dear Olaf Scholz,
His Excellency Olaf Scholz, the Federal Chancellor of the Republic of Germany,
I write to you on a critical topic that will undoubtedly have impacts on the German people, the people of the EU, and the people of the World for years and even decades to come. This is the issue of how, and from what sources, the Republic of Germany sources its energy.
The recent and awful developments in Ukraine have only served to underscore the necessity of a more energy-independent Germany. That German Euros, through the purchase of Russian coal, gas, and oil, are helping even in small part to fund Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified war of aggression on Ukraine is a travesty. I am sure that you, your government, and the vast majority of the German people vigorously detest being put in this situation - one where a bad actor has such significant leverage over the German economy.
I am very encouraged to see that the German government has made commitments to speedily reduce its dependence on Russian fossil fuels, in large part through the accelerated building of renewable energy (e.g., solar, wind) infrastructure. Not only will this severely reduce Russia’s geopolitical leverage, but it will also be a boon to global climate change reduction efforts.
I believe, however, that Germany is looking past a critical tool in its efforts to lower its fossil fuel dependency. That tool is nuclear power.
In the aftermath of the 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan, Germany set out on a path of scaling down and retiring much of its nuclear capacity. On its face, this reaction may have seemed a rational one. Fukushima highlighted, in dramatic fashion, the risks associated with nuclear power generation, and the German government decided that such risks were simply not acceptable, even given nuclear power’s many benefits.
But while nuclear power is certainly not without risk, I believe the decision to turn away from nuclear altogether was a miscalculation. Given our current technologies, large modern economies will not be able to run on wind and solar power alone. While much more environmentally friendly than fossil fuels, these energy sources are unfortunately intermittent by nature. Battery storage can help significantly in smoothing out output over time, but a steady source of energy that can be ramped up when the sun is not shining and the wind is not blowing is still vital. And compared to other sources of steady energy - coal, natural gas, and oil - I believe nuclear boasts the greatest cost-to-benefit ratio.
Opponents of nuclear will often be quick to rattle off the names of famous nuclear disasters: Chernobyl, Three-Mile Island, Fukushima. But the fact that such disasters can be counted on one hand actually speaks to nuclear power’s tremendous safety record. Nuclear plants have been operating by the hundreds, all over the world, for nearly three-quarters of a century. Disasters are dramatic but exceptionally rare. Historical disasters related to the extraction, transport, and refining of oil, however, are too many to count. And that is to say nothing of the horrendous environmental impacts of burning oil and sending the resulting greenhouse gasses into our atmosphere. The incremental creep of environmental devastation associated with the burning of fossil fuels far outstrips the impacts of all nuclear disasters combined.
Nuclear opponents may also decry the process of mining for nuclear fuels, such as uranium. Once again, I submit that nuclear power is not without environmental drawbacks. The costs of and environmental destruction associated with mining are real. But then again, every energy source has its drawbacks, even “green” ones. The metals and other components used to make solar panels and wind turbines do not appear out of thin air. They have to be mined or manufactured - and these processes of course have negative environmental impacts of their own.
The issues of waste storage and the significant up-front cost of building nuclear power plants are certainly relevant too. Yet I believe that, compared to the alternatives - namely, oil, coal, and natural gas - nuclear energy remains incredibly attractive, both from an environmental and a geopolitical standpoint. Once they are up and running, nuclear plants provide clean and reliable energy that can be used to supplement energy from renewable but intermittent sources. The fuel for nuclear plants is abundant, relatively inexpensive, and not monopolized by Germany’s rivals (e.g., Russia). Given nuclear power’s advantages, I hope that Germany reconsiders its decision to curtail its nuclear power production. Embracing nuclear will help Germany - and the world - become a safer, stronger, and greener place.
I thank you sincerely for taking the time to review this letter.