A leap of faith? Divergent EU and U.S. choices on nuclear power

By Thomas Legge
Friday, 10 June 2011
GERMAN MARSHAL FUND

WASHINGTON — Germany’s decision last week to phase out nuclear power has sharpened the differences between Europe and the United States on energy policy. Democratic Senator Jeff Bingaman, a senior voice on energy policy in the U.S. Congress, led the chorus decrying that removing nuclear power from the energy mix would undermine global efforts to combat climate change because the technology emits much fewer greenhouse gases than coal or natural gas, the other main fuels used to generate electricity. The decision highlights an apparent contradiction: Europe is committing itself to a low-carbon future while it moves away from nuclear power, whereas the United States, a laggard on climate action, insists that nuclear power is essential to avoid climate change.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel reacted to the crippling of the Fukushima nuclear reactor in Japan by immediately ordering the temporary closure of seven older nuclear power plants. She has since expanded what appeared to be a panicky sop to public opinion into a revised energy policy that will see all nuclear power stations in Germany closed by 2022.

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