Siemens Says Germany Nuclear Phase Out to Cost Trillions

Investment requirements in renewables and other upgrades would reach 1.7 trillion Euros by 2030

2 min read
Siemens Says Germany Nuclear Phase Out to Cost Trillions

The energy wing of German company Siemens estimates that phasing out nuclear power as planned will cost the country between €1.4 trillion and €1.7 trillion (US $2.17 trillion) by 2030. As reported by Reuters, the company believes investments in renewable energy, natural gas, and other replacements for nukes will far exceed previous estimates.

In the wake of the Fukushima disaster, Germany was the first among a number of countries that announced plans to shut down nuclear reactors and cancel construction of new nuclear facilities. Germany currently gets about one quarter of its electric power from nuclear reactors, and replacing that output is clearly going to be costly. Siemens' estimate, though, far outstrips other guesses on just how much: According to Reuters, the country's second biggest utility company put the number at around €300 billion (though without a time frame). In September, the state-owned investment bank KfW said the switch would cost about €250 billion by 2020.

Among the other countries opting out of nuclear power are Belgium, Switzerland, and Mexico. The costs of these plans vary: In Switzerland, for example, about 40 percent of the country's power comes from five nuclear reactors. Analysis by a think tank called Schweizerische Energie-Stiftung suggested that replacing the reactors would cost 100 billion Swiss francs ($105 billion). Other observers predict that related increases in electricity prices will yield overall drops in the country's GDP.

The nuclear elephant in the EU's living room, of course, is France. The country gets more than 75 percent of its power from nuclear reactors, and instead of joining the exodus following Fukushima, it reiterated its commitment to nuclear energy. That hasn't stopped others from asking what it would cost to replace all of France's reactors, or at least decrease the country's dependence on the controversial energy source. One guess: Lowering nuclear's contribution to 20 percent of the country's total capacity by 2030—which would call for the shuttering of 46 the 58 reactors currently in operation—would cost €112 billion more than leaving the total at 70 percent.

Whether these countries spend in the hundreds of billions or the trillions, the cost of another accident looms over the calculations. Fukushima's cleanup will run upwards of $200 billion, while Chernobyl's has cost at least $235 billion.

(Image via Brewbooks)

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Smokey the AI

Smart image analysis algorithms, fed by cameras carried by drones and ground vehicles, can help power companies prevent forest fires

7 min read
Smokey the AI

The 2021 Dixie Fire in northern California is suspected of being caused by Pacific Gas & Electric's equipment. The fire is the second-largest in California history.

Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

The 2020 fire season in the United States was the worst in at least 70 years, with some 4 million hectares burned on the west coast alone. These West Coast fires killed at least 37 people, destroyed hundreds of structures, caused nearly US $20 billion in damage, and filled the air with smoke that threatened the health of millions of people. And this was on top of a 2018 fire season that burned more than 700,000 hectares of land in California, and a 2019-to-2020 wildfire season in Australia that torched nearly 18 million hectares.

While some of these fires started from human carelessness—or arson—far too many were sparked and spread by the electrical power infrastructure and power lines. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) calculates that nearly 100,000 burned hectares of those 2018 California fires were the fault of the electric power infrastructure, including the devastating Camp Fire, which wiped out most of the town of Paradise. And in July of this year, Pacific Gas & Electric indicated that blown fuses on one of its utility poles may have sparked the Dixie Fire, which burned nearly 400,000 hectares.

Until these recent disasters, most people, even those living in vulnerable areas, didn't give much thought to the fire risk from the electrical infrastructure. Power companies trim trees and inspect lines on a regular—if not particularly frequent—basis.

However, the frequency of these inspections has changed little over the years, even though climate change is causing drier and hotter weather conditions that lead up to more intense wildfires. In addition, many key electrical components are beyond their shelf lives, including insulators, transformers, arrestors, and splices that are more than 40 years old. Many transmission towers, most built for a 40-year lifespan, are entering their final decade.

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