Germany – The Nuclear Dilemma

Germany hit the news this past week due to the demonstrations against nuclear power in the country, but what of the core question: Can we do without nuclear power?

The Gorlagen Express

It all centred around a train-load of nuclear waste being transported to the storage depot at Gorleben after treatment in France. Gorleben is the site of old salt mines that have been used for radioactive waste storage for the last three decades.

Throughout these thirty years, each successive train-load has met with demonstrations by anti-nuclear activists, but this year the demonstrations had a higher significance. The increased anger felt by the protesters was centred on the German governments recent decision to extend the life of the countries 17 nuclear power stations by a further 12 years to 2032, a reversal of a year 2000 decision to phase out all nuclear facilities.

Chernobyl - Nightmare Scenario

The German people have always been against nuclear power since the first experimental atomic power station was opened in Kahl-am-Main in 1960. Already nervous at the idea, this fear was heightened by the Three-Mile Island (Pennsylvania) incident in 1970, and more significantly, the Chernobyl disaster in 1986 which covered Germany in radioactive dust and required a massive clean-up operation.

Since the introduction of nuclear power to the world there have been accidents in many countries in which small amounts of radioactivity have escaped, all were due to human error and no-one in their right minds will ever be convinced that it is a 100% safe method of generating electricity. But there again, what is 100%  safe these days? I’ll tell you – Nothing!

The problem lies in the fact that we have become ‘power’ hungry, and since we entered the digital age the electricity requirements have jumped ten-fold in the industrialised nations. Coupled with this is the lack of a viable alternate method of supplying our energy needs. Our hunger for more power has become so great that to satisfy it with wind, sun, biofuels or hydro-electric power is utterly impossible, despite what their supporters say.

Another sticking point is the ever-increasing demands from developing counties such as India, China and the like as they take their first steps to becoming great industrialised nations.

It would appear that at present, no-one has a foolproof second option. If demonstrators were asked for an alternative, most would probably reply “wind”. There are already wind turbine ‘farms’ dotting the landscape in Europe and other countries, but the technology is afflicted by many problems.

Turbine Blade Convoy in UK

First and foremost is their size, which makes them expensive to produce and maintain, and they require specialists with special equipment to erect. They also have to be erected far away from cities and towns, therefore the construction of power lines to get the output where it is needed is costly.

Turbines have a limited life and need constant maintenance because they suffer from cyclic stresses, due to their sheer size and differing wind forces that fatigue the blades and bearings at a high rate.

Typical Wind Generator Construction

The most significant problem is blade stress, because as a blade reaches the top of its arc it is subject to more wind pressure than at the lowest point of its arc. The huge column on which the whole thing is mounted interrupts the wind flow and as the blade passes, it is subject to ‘negative’ stress (or momentary wind load relief). these two factors combined exert great strain on the blade, its mounting, and the bearings. This problem alone caused many of the earlier models to fail quickly.

Just as important is the fact they are unsightly, and do we really want to cover every high point on the planet with wind turbines?

The Enercon E-126

The highest output from a wind turbine (the Enercon E-126) is a mere 7.58Mw, and that’s on a good day, for as we all know, the wind is a fickle thing. Germany’s nuclear power stations generate 20,490Mw of power per year, that’s 26.1% of total energy needs compared with 6.5% fulfilled by wind power from its in excess of 21,163 wind turbines. No! I am afraid wind is not the answer, no matter what the pundits say.

Energy From the Sun?

The sun is a constant source of energy, at least during daylight, but to generate our needs from solar panels would require covering half the country, and then you wouldn’t be able to use the lights after sundown. No! I don’t think that is practical either.

There are those who say we should burn bio-fuels or resort to hydro-electric power sources but the fact is, bio-fuels have ready proven to be a dead duck because the ground required to grow them is also needed to grow food. The problem with hydro-electric  is, not all countries have rivers or coastline.

The Only Other Viable Alternative?

So the bottom line is, we continue to use fossil fuels that are slowly destroying our planet, or we go with the nuclear option, at least for the foreseeable future. Your choice!

One Response to “Germany – The Nuclear Dilemma”

  1. HI, I think many are debating this subject because it won’t go away. It is possible that soon it will be the only option open to us. Let me know how your discussions go.


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