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Blowing Away Nuclear Power

BRUSSELS – It has been evident for years that Europe needs an energy system that can cut dependence on fossil fuels, bring down future energy costs, and fight climate change. But the Fukushima accident in Japan one year ago underscored the need for an energy source that will fill the gap left by declining nuclear power. Many ask: is renewable energy up to the task?

In the aftermath of the Fukushima meltdown, European Commission President José Manuel Barroso said that now is the time for the renewables sector to “prove itself as a scalable, affordable, and secure energy source….I believe that is going to happen.”

Germany plans to abandon nuclear power by 2022, and Switzerland by 2034. Italy has voted against restarting its nuclear program, which was halted after the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, while Belgium has resolved to decommission the country’s two nuclear plants. And, in France, nuclear power is becoming an election issue, with the opposition proposing to reduce its share of electricity production from 74% today to 50% by 2025.

But the decline of nuclear power is nothing new: between 2004 and 2011, more nuclear-power capacity was decommissioned worldwide than was installed. Last year alone, the world installed 50% more new wind-power capacity (41.2 gigawatts) than all new nuclear capacity installed from 2002 to 2011 (27.3 GW). In terms of electricity production, the wind-power industry has installed the equivalent of 1.3 nuclear reactors per month over the past three years.