Dutch government will keep existing nuclear plant operating AND build two more full-sized water-cooled plants...
Dilan Yeşilgöz-Zegerius (left) State Secretary for Economic Affairs and Climate and Mark Rutte (right) prime minister)
Four years ago, the conventional wisdom in Europe was that the continent was transitioning to renewable energies. The cost of electricity from solar panels, wind turbines, and natural gas had declined significantly, and lithium batteries could soon replace natural gas to provide energy when the sun wasn’t shining and the wind wasn’t blowing. And, held the consensus view, nuclear energy was going away; the main question was how soon existing nuclear plants could be dismantled.
Today, the conventional wisdom has changed radically. Energy and electricity prices are at record levels due to Europe’s over-reliance on renewables, inadequate supplies of nuclear energy, and shortages of oil and gas due to under-investment in oil and gas exploration and production. Carbon emissions in Germany rose 25% in the first half of 2020 due in large part to a 25% decline in wind, underscoring the unreliable nature of weather-dependent renewables. In response, both France and Britain have promised a major expansion of nuclear energy.
Not everything has changed. Both Germany and Belgium are moving full speed ahead with plans to shut down their nuclear power plants, and both nations, along with Austria and Switzerland, are lobbying to exclude nuclear energy from the list of energy technologies the European Union will categorize as sustainable. At the same time, former German Chancellor Angela Merkel said recently that she believes the EU will nonetheless count nuclear as sustainable in its taxonomy, resistance is growing in both Germany and Belgium to closing nuclear plants, and a new YouGov poll finds that over half of Germans say nuclear should remain part of their nation’s climate policy.
The strongest evidence yet that the conventional wisdom has changed came earlier this month from the Netherlands. Its government announced that it will not only keep its existing nuclear power plant operating but also build two additional ones. To signal its seriousness, the government has allocated €5 billion for new plant construction. “We did a market consultation recently,” the Netherlands’ State Secretary for Economic Affairs and Climate, Dilan Yeşilgöz-Zegerius, told me yesterday, “and parties are definitely interested.”
Dutch pro-nuclear activists were ecstatic.
“All year there was the suggestion that the government would merely be launching more ‘research’ into the role of nuclear,” said Joris Van Dorp, co-founder of the Nuclear Pride Coalition, “but now they have gone all the way by putting up the money needed to actually realize projects.”
The transformation of public opinion and conventional wisdom in the Netherlands is striking. “Four years ago, RePlanet Nederland was the only civilian movement to speak out in favor of nuclear energy,” said Olguita Oudendijk, director of the pro-nuclear NGO, “and we were excluded from the Climate Agreement negotiations.” Fast-forward four years later, and the demands of RePlanet, formerly known as the Ecomodernisme Foundation, are at the center of government climate and energy policy.
Explained Yeşilgöz-Zegerius, “Since my party, the VVD, started the discussion on nuclear energy at the end of 2018, there has been growing support for nuclear energy amongst Dutch people. While some political parties like the Greens still try to tackle climate change with ideology rather than rationality, other political parties have changed their views, based on the facts, rather than ideology. If everything goes well, the new plants will be ready by 2035.”
What happened? Why did a once-marginal cause, pro-nuclear environmentalism, move from the margins to the center of Dutch energy policy? Why did facts trump ideology? The answers to those questions matter not just to people who care about Europe, energy, and climate change, but to anybody who is interested in how social change really happens.
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Michael Shellenberger is a Time Magazine "Hero of the Environment,"Green Book Award winner, and the founder and president of Environmental Progress. He is author of just launched book San Fransicko (Harper Collins) and the best-selling book, Apocalypse Never (Harper Collins June 30, 2020). Subscribe To Michael's substack here