The danger of antiquated fossil-nuclear mindsets on energy policy
By Hans-Josef Fell
EU President von der Leyen, German Chancellor Scholz, French President Macron, Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing Wen, as well as most other global leaders – they are all characterized by the fact that in their important high-ranking functions they have almost always viewed energy security solely from a fossil-nuclear perspective. To the present day they have prioritised the business interests of the big energy companies, whose focus is fossil-nuclear.
These global leaders subordinated the resulting geopolitical tensions and climate protection in their policy of procuring crude oil, natural gas, coal and uranium, although the consequences have been foreseeable for decades. They have not effectively promoted domestic renewable energies as the only real solution for energy security. For that reason, they are largely responsible for the fact that the EU and other regions are now highly dependent on energy supplies from autocratic countries and they bear a large share of the blame for the current, ever worsening energy problems, geopolitical tensions and global warming.
In the midst of the current multidimensional crises one might think that these global leaders would have gained new insights and would have realised that by now all efforts must be put into accelerating the expansion of renewable energies at maximum speed. However, that’s not the case. Instead, the famous saying of Hermann Scheer, German politician and co-author of the Renewable Energy Sources Act, applies: “Those who have created a problem cannot solve it.”
This becomes obvious in the current actions and high-profile activities of global leaders to contain the energy crisis. Right now, they spend a lot of time visiting hotspots of the fossil fuel industry, which means looking for solutions where they cannot be found. Instead of seriously engaging with people who are preventing the expansion of renewable energies and urging them to finally solve the blockades, they still serve the interests of the fossil and nuclear economy.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz
For example, German Chancellor Scholz has still not been to Bavaria, the state that has been the biggest blocker of the energy transition for years and is hence now facing particularly massive energy problems in the coming winter. If Chancellor Scholz came to Bavaria, met with the citizens’ communities who have wanted to build wind turbines or open-space solar plants for years, and explained to them how the Bavarian government has been obstructing them for years with anti-windpower-regulations, permit harassment, lack of land designations and more, the pressure on the Bavarian government would be enormous. They couldn’t keep up the blockades any longer.
But instead of sending such signals about the unprecedented urgency of expanding renewables across the country, Scholz has just held a high-profile appointment to inspect the Siemens gas turbine for the Nordstream 1 pipeline in order to document that it is operational. Again, a commitment to the fossil natural gas industry. It was supposed to be a signal to President Putin, who will surely only have laughed at this waste of time by a German Chancellor.
French President Emmanuel Macron
Another example for persisting fossil nuclear patterns of thought is the French President Emmanuel Macron. He aims to build 14 new nuclear power plants and to continue operation of the existing ones with 50-year longevity extensions to enable French energy security in the years ahead. This strategy seems particularly absurd in light of France’s recent experiences with new nuclear construction and operation. For example, the only new nuclear power plant built in France, the EPR reactor in Flamanville, is still not in operation since construction started in 2007 and planned commissioning in 2012. Construction costs have skyrocketed by at least three times. With this in mind, the plans for the construction of 14 new reactors will certainly not be feasible before 2050 and hence will by no means be part of a solution to the the current energy crisis.
On the contrary, France’s 56 nuclear power plants contribute significantly to the European energy crisis. Up to 50% of the French nuclear power plants had to be shut down recently, partly because significant safety risks had been discovered due to cracks in the cooling pipes. Additionally, many other nuclear plants had to be shut down this hot summer due to warm river temperatures and low water levels that could no longer guarantee the plants’ cooling.If the drought persists, there is a threat of further shutdowns in the coming weeks, incidentally also at coal-fired power plants as they also rely on river cooling water.
So far, a French blackout has only been prevented with green electricity supplies from Germany. Exchange electricity prices in France have exploded and are considerably higher than in Germany, where they also drive up electricity prices.
It is clear to see that nuclear power is too expensive and does not contribute to energy security. The fact that Macron nevertheless clings to nuclear power instead of finally announcing a 100% renewable energy target by 2030 speaks for his inability to learn from energy policy mistakes.
EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen
Just recently, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen flew to Azerbaijan and signed new contracts for natural gas supplies to the EU. However, Azerbaijan can hardly increase natural gas production. Crude oil production has also peaked a long time ago. The resulting increase in unemployment leads to social tensions and is suppressed by the autocratic regime that violates human right on a regular basis.
The supply of natural gas and oil from Azerbaijan is only possible via the new Turkey and Adriatic Pipeline, which was mainly promoted by German politicians of the conservative parties via the Council of Europe. These politicians have been criticised for receiving corruption money from Azerbaijan, called the “Azerbaijan Connection” by a German news channel.
In addition, Ursula von der Leyen is responsible for the inclusion of the highly climate-damaging natural gas and the highly dangerous nuclear energy as “green” energies in the EU taxonomy. There is no more obvious way to document the compliant support of the fossil and nuclear economy. Against this backdrop, Ursula von der Leyens recent political activities completely failed in terms of the expansion of renewable energies.
Ukrainian President Wolodimir Selenski
The Ukrainian President Wolodomir Selenski plans to export electricity to Europe to generate revenue. However, more than 50% of the electricity in Ukraine comes from nuclear power plants. These are at high risk in Putin’s war right now. Misdicrected rockets as well as targeted attacks during wars can cause a nuclear “super-disaster”. In that case, regions all over Europe would be affected by radioactive contamination. After the latest attacks on the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant in Ukraine, Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, the International Atomic Energy Agency already speaks of a “real risk of a nuclear catastrophe”.
For that reason, at least in wars, nuclear power plants must be shut down. President Selenski, however, is still sticking to nuclear power production, building up on his announcement to construct new nuclear power plants. Moreover, Ukraine itself buys fuel elements from Russia and thus paradoxically finances Russia’s war of aggression against its own country.
Selenski’s adherence to the fossil-nuclear energy system is thus also a great danger to the existence of all Europeans. The only way out of this highly dangerous situation is the switch to 100% renewable energies. But so far, Selenski has hardly promoted this transformation.
Taiwanese President Tsai Ing Wen
Similarily, the industrial region of Taiwan, another current trouble spot, is almost completely dependent on fossil and nuclear energy supplies from abroad. An interruption in the supply of raw materials would quickly send the economy into a tailspin.
This is precisely what is currently being feared after the visit of U.S. Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi. China reacted angrily to what they see as an enormous provocation and has begun to hold a military manoeuvre. There are fears in Taiwan that a blockade of sea and air routes is being prepared.
Should China actually block the sea and air routes in violation of international law, there would be an enormous energy shortage in Taiwan in a short time and the economy would collapse, with catastrophic consequences for the global economy. Two thirds of the global contract production of semiconductors takes place in Taiwan. Should Taiwan try to prevent this with military means, the nuclear powers USA and China would probably be at war with each other.
Against this geopolitical backdrop, it becomes painfully apparent that it was a mistake for President Tsai Ing Wen to not put all efforts into transforming the energy policy towards 100% renewable energies immediately after coming to power and to continue to serve the fossil fuel economy instead.
The Energy Watch Group had already advised the president in this matter, when she was still in opposition. In 2021 the EWG in cooperation with the LUT University in Finland and the Taiwanese Ministry of Energy additionally completed a study on 100% renewable energies in the Taiwanese electricity sector by 2050, that was supported by the Taiwanese President Tsai Ing Wen. Only the suggested rapid switch to 100% domestic renewable energy can solve this dangerous situation for Taiwan in the medium term. Tsai Ing Wen did try to end the dependency on nuclear power, but the powerful nuclear industry in Taiwan has overturned this nuclear phase-out law with a referendum.
If China continues to block Taiwan, there will probably be no more fuel elements for nuclear power in Taiwan. The situation of Taiwan currently shows the fragility and vulnerability of countries that are dependent on fossil and nuclear energy. Even if China does not block the sea routes this time, the “Sword of Damocles” will always hover above Taiwan.
Scholz, Macron, von der Leyen, Selenski, Tsai Ing Wen – as different as the challenges that the respective countries are currently facing may be – what unites them all is that they seem to have learned nothing from the current crises. Even though the multidimensional crises of our time – energy price crisis, climate crisis, health crisis, wars – show us more painfully than ever where our nuclear fossil dependency has led us, they are still clinging to the fossil and nuclear energy system instead of clearly focusing all efforts on the expansion of renewable energies. Only with these will we be able to embark on the path to a sustainable and peaceful future. Read our global study to learn how such a 100% clean energy supply can be implemented worldwide in a technically and economically viable way.
Hans-Josef Fell is the founder and president of The Energy Watch Group and was a member of the German Parliamentary Group Alliance 90/ the Greens from 1998 to 2013.
This article was first published by The Energy Watch Group and is republished with permission. It was originally written in German and the translation and spellings are reproduced from the Energy Watch Group site’s English-language version. We have made only minor edits for clarity or in the case of clear errors.
Headline photo of G7 and EU leaders by 内閣官房内閣広報室/Wikimedia Commons.