Power Politics: German Nuclear Shutdown Stresses Grid, Economy

Germany’s anti-nuclear movement has always been one of the strongest in the world, and the earthquake and tsunami disaster in Japan has provided more political energy behind the “Nein, danke” crowd.

Chancellor Angela Merkel, a Christian Democrat, has been irresolute in her handling of the issue, temporarily halting operations at seven of Germany’s 17 nuclear power plants after events in Japan. She has backed away from the government’s support for extending the life of nuclear power plants, and created a commission to review operations.

The practical implications for the economy and German manufacturing are serious. As Der Spiegel reports today in an interview with Johannes Teyssen, CEO of the energy giant E.on, the country’s electrical grid could be rendered unstable.

SPIEGEL: Whenever power plants are to be shut down, the electric utilities warn of the dangers of supply shortages. But that hasn’t happened yet.

Teyssen: We don’t play around with dangerous situations. We have informed the Economics Ministry that there may be problems with grid stability following the planned shutdown of the nuclear power plants.

SPIEGEL: Why, exactly?

Teyssen: The grids are not designed to handle such a serious redistribution of loads. Major capacities will be eliminated in the south (of Germany) as a result of the power plant shutdowns. We lack the necessary power lines to transmit wind-generated electricity from the north. This could lead to massive problems in the grid, even power outages.

Japan’s catastrophe happened just before voters in three states went to the polls, heightening the political maneuvering over nuclear power.

In state elections in Sachsen Anhalt last Sunday, the eco-party, the Greens, claimed 7.1 percent of the vote, enough for it re-enter the parliament for the first time since 1998.

Next up are elections Sunday in the large southwestern state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, home to Stuttgart and much of Germany’s auto industry. Seven nuclear power plants generate 60 percent of the state’s electricity. The Wall Street Journal reports that according to a new poll conducted for ZDF, the Greens are drawing 25 percent, enough to make them the second largest party after the conservative Christian-Democrats (38 percent) and even larger than the Social Democrats or SPD (22.5 percent).

The Politbarometer poll (available here in German) shows smaller gains for the Greens in Sunday’s elections Rheinland Pfalz, where they could form the government in coalition with the SPD.

It’s possible the volatility of the electorate will subside as the week progresses. The German TV networks seem less alarmist than the American in their coverage of the news from Japan, and the situation is improving. Kyodo News reports, “All 6 Fukushima reactors reconnected to external power“:

All six reactors at the quake-stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant have been reconnected to external power, plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. said Tuesday, although smoke detected at the No. 2 and No. 3 reactors the day before had temporarily hampered efforts to restore power and cool down spent nuclear fuel pools.

Meanwhile, Prosit! “Radioactive Milk Only A Danger After 58,000 Glasses.

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