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Satoshi Hoshino

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German denuclearization and renewable energy policy

Satoshi Hoshino
Professor of Modern Politics and Environmental Politics, Faculty of Law, Chuo University

Influence of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear reactor accident on international nuclear policies

The Great East Japan Earthquake and ensuing Fukushima No.1 nuclear reactor accident on March 11, 2011 greatly influenced international nuclear policies and energy policies. In May of the same year Switzerland stated its ambition to decommission all its five nuclear reactors by the year 2034 and set out a plan to use hydropower as a replacement for nuclear energy. Italy, with a public vote, clearly reiterated its anti-nuclear stance. In Germany, after the Fukushima nuclear accident, large scale anti-nuclear demonstrations took place. Especially in southwestern Germany the anti-nuclear movement intensified with demonstrators forming a 45km human chain stretching from Neckarwestheim power plant in Baden-W端rttemberg Province to Stuttgart. With this kind of escalation in the anti-nuclear movement, the Merkel government backed down on its policy to maintain nuclear energy which had just been set out in September 2010, and expressed an objective of gradually decommissioning all the country's nuclear reactors by 2022.

German denuclearization policy

The German denuclearization policy was set by the coalition government established in 1998 between the Social Democrat Party of Germany (SDP) and Alliance '90 / The Greens. The thinking of the coalition at the time was that there was a high risk of nuclear energy being unacceptable. As a result of deliberations between then-President Schroder and energy companies, an agreement was reached between both parties in June 2000 relating to the closure of nuclear power plants. The content of the agreement included, first, regarding the lifespan of reactors, the remaining operating life would be calculated from January 1, 2000 in accordance to the stipulated lifespan of 32 years, in regards to safety, existing safety standards would be applied during the remaining years, and regarding the disposal of nuclear waste, power companies would, as soon as possible, construct interim storage facilities located on the nuclear reactor site or nearby. And in September 2001, the law relating to the abolition of nuclear energy was passed by the Bundestag, and nuclear power in Germany was to be ended 32 years after the start of operations at an average of under 12 years per reactor.

Merkel administration's denuclearization policy

However, in 2009 the Merkel administration came into power and Germany's denuclearization policy took an about turn. The centre-right leaning coalition between the Christian Democratic Union・Christian Social Union (CDU・CSU) and the Free Democratic Party (FDP) deliberated and agreed to revoke the denuclearization policy. The main points of the agreement included approving the extension of nuclear plants constructed before 1980 by eight years, and approving the extension of nuclear plants built after 1980 by 14 years. Of the 17 nuclear plants in Germany, seven were built before 1980 and 10 after. However, this decision was overturned after the Fukushima No.1 nuclear reactor accident on March 11 last year. The Merkel government, unable to suppress the power of the anti-nuclear movement after the Fukushima accident, agreed to revert to the previous decision and abolish all nuclear power by 2020. This passed through the German parliament at the end of June 2011 with a vote of 513 to 79. With this decision, it was confirmed that the eight old-model reactors would be decommissioned in 2011, and the remaining nine reactors by 2022.

Establishing a renewable energy law

In March 2000, with a view toward diverse energy sources and a sustainable supply after the abolishment of nuclear power, Germany established a renewable energy law. The aim of this law, in order to preserve the atmosphere and protect nature and the environment, was to enable the development of a sustainable energy supply and to support the development of technology to produce power from renewable energy. Furthermore, this law set numerical targets for the proportion of renewable energy. After the revision in January 2012, the proportional targets for power supply through renewable energy stood at 50% by 2030 and 80% by 2050. Also, this law stipulated a purchase price for power generated by renewable energy, making power companies bound by law to buy power produced by renewable energy companies at a set price. With the set purchase price for each company fixed for 20 years, from the renewable energy companies' point of view, future income is guaranteed, also making it simpler to enter the market.

Renewable energy and employment growth

Since the enactment of this renewable energy law the proportion of power supply has continued to increase, with a rate of 6.25% in 2000 rising more than twofold to 11.7% in 2006. Also, employment in renewable energy fields have also risen with numbers increasing to 84,000 in the wind power generation field, 96,000 in biomass and 50,000 in solar power generation in 2007. Over the long term it is believed that there is the possibility for employment in these fields to expand even more. In Germany there are many businesses related to wind power generation and solar power generation and these companies have anticipated the potential of renewable energy, and in relation to that, are vigorously undergoing technological development and patent procurement. Investment into the renewable energy sector has also increased and, according to the German Federal Environment Ministry, that figure amounts to 17.7 billion Euro (approx. 1.7 trillion yen), and employment has reached over 300,000. Looking at renewable energy rates for 2011, renewable energy accounted for 12.2% of total energy consumption and already accounts for 20% of generated power. Therefore, the energy policy of renewable energy constituting 80% of the total power supply by 2050 does not seem impossible.

Movement toward denuclearization in Japan

Japan at the moment is at a turning point in making a decision on the course of future energy policy. After last year's Fukushima nuclear accident anti-nuclear sentiment has grown among her people and the number of participants in anti-nuclear demonstrations outside parliament is also increasing. The Democratic Party of Japan government has indicated three choices of 0%, 15% or 20-25% for the proportion of nuclear energy in total power production in 2030 and is conducting nationwide public hearings, deliberative polls, and asking for public comments. As a result, each poll produced responses for "0%" of 68%, 47% and 90% respectively. Looking at these results, it is clear that more than half of the population is of the opinion that nuclear power generation should be terminated. Germany has already confirmed its course of eliminating nuclear power by 2022, and through this law has set numerical targets to gradually raise the proportion of renewable energy used in supplying power. I believe that in Japan also, the government needs to sincerely accept the public opinion and immediately decide upon a direction for future energy policy, while at the same time, enforce by law numerical targets for policies with the aim of increasing the proportion of renewable energy.

Satoshi Hoshino
Professor of Modern Politics and Environmental Politics, Faculty of Law, Chuo University
Born in Sapporo in 1951. Obtained doctorate from the Graduate School of Law, Chuo University in 1981. Became a professor at the Faculty of Law, Chuo University in 1990 after working as an assistant from 1981 and assistant professor from 1983. Visiting professor at the University of Bremen 1993-1994. Graduate School of Law chairman from 2007. Major publications include Modern Nations and World Systems (Gendai Kokka to Sekai Shisutemu) (Dobunkan), World System Political Science (Sekai Shisutemu no Seijigaku) (Koyoshobo), Focus on Modern German Politics (Gendai Doitsu Seiji no Shoten) (Chuo University Press), Underlying Structure of Authority (Gendai Kenryokuron no Kozu) (Jokyo Shuppan / Winner of the 19th Sakurada Association Encouragement Award), Between the People's State and the Empire (Kokumin Kokka to Teikoku no Aida) (Sekai Shyoin), Environmental Politics and Governance (Kankyo Seiji to Gabanansu) (Chuo University Press).