Europe and nuclear: episode 4 – Denmark
European Climate-Energy policies and nuclear: a disunited Union
“We have heard just about every excuse not to build any power plants, ranging from it’s dangerous, it’s expensive, it takes too long to build and that it’s now too late to start building because we need fast emission reduction.” Sounds familiar?
The above sentence is from the author of this newsletter, a future physicist from Denmark who is concerned with the future of her country and the planet.
In this newsletter, she addresses one of the most breakthrough, innovative, bold, far-sighted, probably also expensive, and hazardous energy projects the European Union has yet to witness within its borders: an energy island that will centralize the power of fields upon fields of wind turbines – 28 billion € for 20 years’ (at most) generation from 3 GW, later perhaps 10 GW, of intermittent power.
Is that the project she is referring to when complaining about the endless excuses politicians find not to commit to it? No, it is not. You guessed that.
There is a bias. There is subjectivity that translates into a (strong) bias that penalizes or even dismisses nuclear projects systematically, on grounds they nevertheless share with many, if not all, the other forms of power production.
As the incorrigible optimists that we are, we, at the Voices, chose to believe this bias could continue to hurt our response to the challenges we face, including but not limited to climate change, because the public was left in ignorance of it. We decided to trust the fact that democracy works. We decided to trust the fact that politicians may be sincerely trying to improve our collective and individual lives based on the mandate we give them. We decided to trust the fact that, in the main, we are all more intellectually honest than dishonest.
As public policies concerning the energy transition, at Member States level and European Commission level, and the numbers that go with them, add up, we decided to take charge of this topic. Once again, we aim to shed light – luminous, if not crude, light – on it: how nuclear energy is unfairly treated in energy transition policies, especially when in blatant disregard of facts.
It is going to be as arduous as it is urgent. Anyone who wants to help, please do so.
Find the open letter signed by 46 European and world environmental NGOs, on the initiative of the Voices of Nuclear, addressed to the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen this week to request the fair recognition of nuclear energy in the European taxonomy of sustainable investments: open letter to the European Commission.
Denmark, energy and nuclear: smokescreen green transition and excuses preventing deep decarbonization
By Henriette Schön Svendsen
Written by Henriette Schön Svendsen, currently taking a bachelor’s degree in physics at the University of Copenhagen
When hearing about Denmark, one of the first things that comes to mind for many people is that we are the leading country for “green” renewable energy. In Denmark we have focused on decarbonizing our energy sector by increasing the amount of solar and especially wind energy in our energy mix since the 1990s, but since wind and solar are not very reliable, we also needed some kind of backup that would allow phase-out of coal, gas and oil.
By outsourcing the CO2 emissions of biomass to the country where the fuel is imported from, we can keep our reputation as a leading green nation
In 2019 Denmark consumed 715 PetaJoules of energy. The share of what is classified as renewables was 251.9 PJ, and of that the share of biomass was at 163.3 PJ. Only 58.1 PJ of the energy we consumed was produced from wind.
Source: The Danish Energy Agency, Energy Statistics 2019
We chose to let fear and populism take part in the political decision making
Turning our attention to the electricity sector, low carbon sources supply just half of domestic electricity, with around 47 % from wind and 3 % from solar. And over the last 15 years we have seen a rising dependency on imported electricity. In 2019 we consumed around 35 TWh, while only 29 TWh was supplied by our own production. When the wind isn’t in our favor we rely on dirty energy from Germany and clean energy from Sweden and Norway to cover the remaining 6 TWh.
What we should be doing is looking towards countries such as Sweden or France. In 2019 the French electricity generation was 538 TWh and 90% low-carbon, while consumption was 473 TWh. Of that 71% came from nuclear power, 11% from hydro, 6% wind and 2% solar.2 The substantial expansion of nuclear power for electricity production has resulted in very low emissions from the power sector. But instead we chose to let fear and populism take part in the political decision making.
Net exports of electricity by country
Net balance of electricity, 1990-2019. Significant net imports since 2012.
Source: The Danish Energy Agency, Energy Statistics 2019
‘OOA’ had a huge influence on politicians and in the media, and they succeeded in yelling the loudest
The same year, an organization was founded that called itself the Organization for Information on Nuclear Power [OOA], which was a very radio-phobic and anti-nuclear movement. Just like Greenpeace, they had a big voice in the political discussion and in the public forum. In 1976 the first official energy plan was made with one of the main points being the shift from fossil fuels towards nuclear energy, proposing construction of 6 nuclear power plants between 1985-1999, but the entire project became postponed because of rising opposition.
As a response to all the misinformation arising, a group of citizens founded an organization called REO the same year. The group consisted of, among others, physicists at the Niels Bohr Institute and technicians from our test reactor at Risø. Their mission was to inform the public about nuclear power with a factual approach. But OOA had a huge influence on politicians and in the media, and they succeeded in yelling the loudest.
In 1979 the Three Mile Island accident happened. Although there were no human or environmental consequences, public opinion in Denmark became even more polarized. Demonstrations against nuclear rose and the entire ‘70s generation remembers the “nuclear no thanks” movement through the ‘80s very well. The fear of accidents and radiation drove people to the streets demanding the closure of the Swedish nuclear power plant Barsebäck – which became a reality. In 1999 the first reactor closed down and in 2005 the second one closed. In 1985 the proposal for incorporating nuclear in our energy mix was completely removed from the energy plan.
Replacing backup from coal, oil and gas with biomass and exponentially expanding our installed wind capacity gives people a false sense of accomplishment by feeling that what we’ve done so far is what has been best for both climate and environment, when in fact neither is true
Through the 1990s the wind industry really took off and the share of wind power grew rapidly. As climate change became a growing concern, the renewable industry took the concerns and built a business around it. Renewables as the best tool to combat greenhouse gas emissions soon became a commonly accepted fact. But for populations to thrive and develop, the need for energy rises and a steady supply of it is essential. However, replacing backup from coal, oil and gas with biomass and exponentially expanding our installed wind capacity will not get us to the final goal of carbon neutrality anytime soon. Instead, it gives people a false sense of accomplishment by feeling that what we’ve done so far is what has been best for both climate and environment, when in fact neither is true.
The mindset about nuclear power being dangerous is still very dominant and a lot of the discussions today on the subject are still rooted in the fear of accidents, nuclear “waste” and radiation. From the political side we have heard just about every excuse not to build any power plants, ranging from it’s dangerous, it’s expensive, it takes too long to build and that it’s now too late to start building because we need fast emission reduction – our politicians can’t seem to make up their minds.
Now our next big project is an energy island3 hooked up to 3 GW wind capacity, and perhaps later up to 10 GW in the North Sea. The cost of this is estimated to be €28 billion, not including any form of backup or power storage, and as of now the project is estimated to be ready to go in 2033. Our climate minister is selling it as visionary, but do the same arguments applying to nuclear not apply to this? In the opinion of the majority, apparently not. Lobby organizations have an ever-growing role in politics, and decisions are often made with input from “experts” from various groups such as NOAH, Greenpeace, The Ecological Council etc, which also played a key role in the closure of Barsebäck.
Artificial island project in the North Sea (electrical hub)
We are starting to see people open their eyes to information that isn’t provided by so-called experts from Greenpeace who very much dominate the debate
Over the last few years or so we have seen a slow but steady growth of pro-nuclear activism. People have been seeking factual information and confronting our politicians with questions, doubts and criticism about our current energy strategy. REO have had an active role for many years and now we start seeing newly established associations take an active part too.
The association “Nuclear power yes please” [Foreningen Atomkraft ja tak] was founded in April 2020 and ATOMiDA (stands for “nuclear power in Denmark”) came along even more recently. We are starting to see people open their eyes to information that isn’t provided by so-called experts from Greenpeace who very much dominate the debate in media outlets.
The latest newcomer in the fight for nuclear in Denmark is a daughter company of the Swedish electricity company Kärnfull Energi which expanded its reach to provide low emission electricity to Danish citizens. This will make it possible to get 100% of your electricity from Swedish nuclear power plants, and even support research on new-generation nuclear power plants by donating a certain amount of the money per kWh sold. By buying guarantees of origin, the amount of electricity we consume will correspond to an equal amount produced by nuclear power plants in Sweden. Of course, the guarantees will not mean much on their own, but as the demand presumably increases, it will form a foundation for keeping existing nuclear power plants in operation and even expanding installed capacity. One can only hope that this demand will be an eye-opener for our politicians.