No nuclear power stations, but 100% renewable energy by 2050

1 June 2011

No nuclear power stations, but 100% renewable energy by 2050

Paulus JansenWithin ten years Germany will close all of its nuclear power stations. The Netherlands would do well to follow its example, argues Paulus Jansen. Nuclear energy is not as safe as some think, and is forcing renewables from the market.

Paulus Jansen is spokesman on energy and climate issues for the SP parliamentary group.

When it comes to the production of sustainable energy, Germany has been ahead of the Netherlands for many years. Its ‘feed-in’ system, under which suppliers of sustainable energy are guaranteed a fixed price, has enabled it to install, in recent years, a gigantic surface area of solar panels, and without unnecessary bureaucratic rigmarole.

In proportion to the size of the two countries, eighteen months ago the Germans had twenty-eight times as many solar panels as did the Netherlands, and offered far more space for the construction of windmills and green energy installations by farmers. This approach has created 300,000 jobs in Germany in sectors linked to the production of sustainable energy.

In this way Germany is ensuring that the country is becoming less and less dependent on fossil fuels and nuclear power. Following the Fukushima disaster in Japan, numerous German nuclear power stations were closed temporarily in order for stress tests to be conducted. On 24th May only four of the seventeen German nuclear power stations were delivering power to the grid, yet German consumers experienced no problems. At the same time the Fraunhofer Institute, an official national research facility, has worked out a plan to produce 100% of the country’s energy from sustainable sources.

In the Netherlands only 9% of electricity produced comes from renewable sources, of which a major portion comes from wood pellets (biomass). The European Union is demanding that by 2020 at least 14% of energy needs are met from renewables, which amounts to around 35% of electricity. If all plans for coal-fired- and nuclear power stations are fulfilled, this target will never be met.


Nuclear power stations block the development of renewable energy sources because they can only be deployed economically if worked to full capacity. The production of sustainable energy is subject in the course of a day to peaks and troughs, because renewables are dependent on the fluctuating availability of wind and sun. Natural gas-powered and hydro-power stations are flexible and for this reason, in contrast to nuclear power stations, are ideal for countering these peaks and troughs. If we want eventually to go over to renewable energy, then these flexible sources’ share of total capacity must be gradually increased.

Only half of the energy generated at the Netherlands’ nuclear power station in Borssele is used in the production of electricity. The other half disappears via the water-based cooling system into the Westerschelde, the estuary of the River Scheldt. This represents a waste of residual heat which could in theory maintain the heating systems of 1.75 million houses, around ten times the actual number of dwellings in the province of Zeeland. This residual heat could be put to good use in small-scale electricity generating stations, increasing efficiency from 50% to 80%. This enormous quantity of residual heat in an area with little demand for heating guarantees a huge waste of energy for years to come.

On economic grounds the new nuclear power station is also a risky venture, with the necessary investment estimated at €2bn- €6bn, twice as much as it would cost to build a gas-powered station. The high level of investment means a depreciation period of sixty years, so that a power station built in 2020 would need to be able to supply energy until 2080, while it is expected that, between 2020 and 2025, solar power for households will become competitive with traditional energy sources. For major consumers, the equivalent date is 2030-2040. If the Germans have gone over completely to renewables by 2050, the Netherlands will continue be saddled with a nuclear power station for a further thirty years.


On top of this is the risk of a nuclear disaster. Safety can still not be guaranteed in nuclear power stations. History has taught us that Zeeland (much of which is below sea level) could also be hit by a natural disaster. A nuclear disaster would be costly, and these costs would be borne largely by the taxpayer, as the responsibility of the developer is limited to €700 million. A conservative estimate of the real costs of the Chernobyl and Fukushima disasters suggests that they are in the order of 100 times greater than this, and this bill would be passed on to you and me.

The Netherlands would do much better to follow Germany’s example: increase investment in renewable energy, and put an end to nuclear power. This would be safer, better for the economy and for employment, and in the long run cheaper for everyone. Follow the Germans, and work out a plan to provide 100% of the Netherlands’ energy from renewables by 2050.

This article first appeared, in Dutch, in the national newspaper Reformatorisch Dagblad.

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