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Germany turns back to fossil fuel plants

A worker walks past Castor containers filled with spent nuclear fuel rods from decommissioned nuclear power plants at the Zwischenlager Nord temporary nuclear waste storage facility on June 8, 2011 in Lubmin, Germany.

Tess Vigeland: Today the German government unveiled a new vision for the country's energy needs. Chancellor Angela Merkel announced last week that nuclear power was no longer an option, in the wake of the Fukushima disaster in Japan. Germany is instead going back to the future, with plans to double the number of gas and coal-fired power stations to be built.

Marketplace's Stephen Beard reports from London.


Stephen Beard: Germany is bowing to the inevitable, claims Dieter Helm, an energy expert at Oxford University. He says if the Germans do abandon nuclear power, they will have to build more fossil fuel plants. Ironic, he says, that this follows pressure from German environmentalists.

Dieter Helm: What they have succeeded now in doing is pushing Germany to a fossil fuel-dominated system. And they've committed Germany to making a bigger contribution to increasing global warming.

German and other European environmentalists don't agree. Mike Childs of Friends of the Earth says the nuclear power can be replaced with cleaner alternatives.

Mike Childs: There are numerous research bodies in Germany who point to the ability of Germany to do much more work on energy efficiency and also an ability to speed up its development of renewable power.

Many energy experts point out that renewables like solar and wind power are intermittent; they depend on whether the sun is shining or the wind is blowing. So you need much more renewable power production capacity. Mark Nicholls, editor of Environmental Finance Magazine, warns that it will be expensive.

Mark Nicholls: You have to ask what the appetite is for the German taxpayer to foot the bill for such an aggressive expansion of renewables and energy efficiency.

He says because of the cost -- financial and climatic -- few other countries will turn their backs on nuclear power.

In London, I'm Stephen Beard for Marketplace.

About the author

Stephen Beard is the European bureau chief and provides daily coverage of Europe’s business and economic developments for the entire Marketplace portfolio.

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