France ramps up nuclear power as Germany closes plants in name of clean energy: NPR

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ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: And I’m Rob Schmitz in Trier, Germany, where the chants of young protesters are the only sounds echoing through the freezing alleyways of this medieval town along the border with France.

(PROTEST EXCERPT)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (speaking German).

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (speaking German).

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (speaking German).

SCHMITZ: They’re calling for an end to burning coal and nuclear power. This town is a few miles from the French town of Cattenom, home to a nuclear power plant and a source of anxiety for the town’s 100,000 residents. Elisabeth Quare is a member of Anti-Nuclear Power Trier, and she is dressed in a bicycle outfit.

ELISABETH QUARE: (Speaking German).

SCHMITZ: She says she avoids cycling on roads where she sees the factory towers. She doesn’t want to be reminded. But lately, it has been difficult for him to close the Cattenom factory. The French government has just approved a 10-year extension of one of the plant’s reactors.

QUARE: (speaking German).

SCHMITZ: She says the French president is increasing nuclear power because he’s in election mode. Quare is delighted that Germany is abandoning its nuclear program. The government took three factories off the grid last month and will do the same for the three remaining German factories in a year. But France’s renewed commitment to nuclear power worries Quare.

QUARE: (speaking German).

SCHMITZ: She holds up a map of the 56 French reactors. About half are located along its international borders. In the event of an accident, the radiation would blow to the east.

HENRIK TE HEESEN: Because of the wind conditions we have, all that nuclear waste would be blown into Germany, Switzerland, Luxembourg.

SCHMITZ: Henrik te Heesen is a professor of renewable energy technologies at the University of Applied Sciences in Trier. He says Germany has achieved a remarkable goal over the past decade in phasing out nuclear power. He replaced it with renewable energy. The country still burns coal for more than a quarter of its energy supply, and Germany hopes to replace it with natural gas and more renewables. Distributing all this new wind and solar power has been a challenge, he admits, but it helps make Germany a net energy exporter, like France, with its robust nuclear program. But te Heesen says nuclear has hidden costs.

TE HEESEN: Nuclear power, of course, is reliable because it produces day and night – 7,000 hours a year. But the costs are rather high due to high investment costs and high maintenance costs and of course all the other risks we have during the operation phase of a nuclear power plant.

SCHMITZ: The biggest risk, of course, is the disposal of nuclear waste. It remains radioactive for thousands of years, which cut off the Germans from the power source. In the 1960s and 1970s, when nuclear power became popular, Germany opened several power plants. But a great anti-nuclear movement has developed. Germany’s siege to the forefront during the Cold War fueled this anxiety. And in 1986, when fallout from the Chernobyl disaster exposed parts of the country to radiation, public opinion soured. The Fukushima disaster in 2011 was another blow.

(SOUND EXCERPT FROM AN ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANGELA MERKEL: (speaking German).

SCHMITZ: Chancellor Angela Merkel quickly bowed to public pressure and announced that Germany would phase out all nuclear power within 10 years. His government kept that promise. The new German Chancellor, Olaf Scholz, wants to accelerate the exit from coal and possibly natural gas. He promises that by the end of this decade, 80% of Germany’s energy will come from renewable energies. And he does not include nuclear in this category.

(SOUND EXCERPT FROM AN ARCHIVED RECORDING)

OLAF SCHOLZ: (speaking German).

SCHMITZ: In his first speech in parliament, Scholz said that nuclear power seemed like progress, but Germany has now moved on. Rob Schmitz, NPR News, Trier.

(SOUND EXTRACTION OF “OHM SWEET OHM” BY KRAFTWERK)

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