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Questioning Germany’s nuclear power decision

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Tess Vigeland: German Chancellor Angela Merkel was the guest of honor at a state dinner last night. On the menu: tuna tartare, petite filet and, of course, apfel strudel.

But overseas, there’s a sour taste in Europe. Namely over Germany’s decision to eliminate nuclear power from its energy policy. The president of the Czech Republic called the choice “absurd.”

Commentator David Frum says the U.S. needs to discuss the matter with Chancellor Merkel.

David Frum: Here’s one question President Obama should ask her: What are you doing to the most important economy in Europe?

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has announced a plan to permanently close all of Germany’s 17 remaining nuclear reactors by 2022. This follows a temporary moratorium on nuclear power imposed in March.

Granted, there is a large measure of grandstanding in this decision. Germany long ago outsourced much of its electricity production to nuke-reliant France and the coal-burning Czech Republic. Since the March moratorium, electricity imports from France and the Czech Republic have doubled.

Granted also, there is a certain amount of cynicism at work. When the German government ordered the closing of Germany’s aging nuclear plants, it also assumed responsibility for some of the costs. That gift to the German electricity industry sent Germany’s equivalent of the S&P 500 surging to its highest level in weeks on the day after Merkel’s announcement.

Those caveats noted, however, the question remains: What are the Germans doing? If it wishes to continue to reduce its burning of coal, Germany has two main alternatives to nuclear-generated power: wind and gas. Wind power is expensive, and German wind power is more expensive than most because Germany’s wind farms are located offshore in the North Sea. By committing to wind, Germany commits itself to permanently higher costs.

More likely, then, Germany will use wind as an eco-decoration and eco-distraction for its real energy strategy: gas-fired electricity. Gas-fired power is cost-effective. But German gas is imported from Russia and more imports will only intensify Germany’s already troubling strategic dependency on an authoritarian regime.

In a sluggish world economy, the U.S. needs Germany to thrive and expand. So the question: What are they doing to the most important economy in Europe?

Ryssdal: David Frum was a speechwriter for President George W. Bush. He’s now editor of FrumForum. Robert Reich is in the rotation next week. Meantime, send us your comments. Click on this contact link.

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