Germany’s decision to shut down its nuclear power plants latest by 2022 is a historic response to rising public opinion after the Fukushima disaster. It is momentous because it comes from a conservative, business-oriented coalition that earlier viewed nuclear power as vital for competitiveness. It is worth recalling that Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government legislated last year to overturn a similar commitment on closure made by its centre-left predecessor. But the nuclear accident in Japan and the swelling tide of public protests led to the dropping of the plan to extend the lifespan of 17 nuclear power stations until 2033. What is more, seven old reactors were retired. Chancellor Merkel’s bold move clearly derives much confidence from a forward-looking energy plan that emphasises cleaner and better power from natural gas and coal, and an expanded role for renewable energy sources such as solar and wind.
The prospect of doing away with nuclear power has world-wide appeal although the imperatives are not the same in every country. The German story is one of an industrialised society that has no compulsion to meet the energy needs of robust economic growth and rapidly rising living standards. In fact, nuclear energy meets 29 per cent of its needs and now requires alternatives. India, on the other hand, needs a safe and efficient mix of sources to cater to massively expanding demand. It must, in parallel, reduce the energy intensity of growth. The way to go would be to actively cooperate with countries like Germany on building efficient coal-fired power plants, tapping newer technologies such as river turbines, and aggressively expanding solar-based technologies. Multiple options are necessary also to stay aligned to carbon emission goals.