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The Pushmi-Pullyu of Nuclear Politics

pushmi-pullyu Not here, where roses bloom and politics is the sport of gentlemen </snark>, but Germany. We noted the other day (scroll down – lots of good reading) that Germany was experiencing some buyers’ remorse over its decision to pull the plug on nuclear energy and that the prime minister, Angela Merkel, was beginning to signal a turnabout in policy.

But politics is politics. Merkel’s party, the Christian Democrats, are roughly comparable to America’s Republicans – that is, conservative leaning - and the Social Democrats to Democrats – liberal leaning, perhaps a bit more toward classical socialism than the Dems. Smaller, single-issue, regional and fringy parties usually form coalitions with the more like-minded of the big two. So, the Greens, the enviro-(friendly/extreme – your choice) party, usually works with the Social Democrats.

However, the governing coalition now consists of both big parties, rather like the Dems and Reps hanging out together.  The result would please Dr. Dolittle.

So here’s the story, via Reuters:

Germany's Social Democrats are preparing to propose taxing nuclear power generators as they prepare for next year's federal election campaign, a move which will pit them against their conservative coalition partners.

And why do they want to tax nuclear plants now?

[The Social Democrats] said the largely written-off equipment was highly profitable while nuclear operators did not have to pay any carbon avoidance costs and benefited from favorable arrangements for insurance and decommissioning costs.

Huh? Isn’t that the benefit of nuclear power plants, that they run long enough to amortize their costs, don’t emit carbon dioxide and are safe enough to do well on actuarial charts? It’s hooey through and through, but really, has more to do with this:

[Christian Democratic] politicians argue Germany must run its nuclear power stations beyond 2021 as they provide one third of the country's electricity needs which cannot be immediately replaced by renewable energies or thermal plants burning other fuels.

And, we’d add, not as inexpensively. The efficacy of nuclear energy seems to have put the Social Democrats in a knot. The thought here seems to be that if new taxes pass costs on to consumers, the value of nuclear energy diminishes. It’s hard to think of anything in American politics as utterly harebrained – well, okay, shortsighted - as this and that’s going some.

But there’s a however:

Relations are already strained in the coalition and utilities have stepped up calls for a nuclear rethink.

Fritz Vahrenhold, head of the renewable business unit RWE Innogy of the RWE group, Germany's largest power producer, said on German radio the tax idea was out of the question as Germany was heading for power supply gaps.

We can’t pretend to understand the ins and outs of German politics and it may be that this coalition is constantly in pushmi-pullyu mode on a whole range of issues. One could easily imagine the electorate surging further left or right just to do away with the arrangement. Regardless, the more we look at the German responses to nuclear energy – especially as regards the current sense of urgency – the deeper into the back alleys of cuckoo land it goes.

We can’t hazard a guess on the next move, but it’s fascinating to watch play out. Stay tuned.

I’d hoped to find a picture of the pushmi-pullyu from the (dreadful) 1969 Rex Harrison movie. This version was used in a revival of the stage musical in England. I suspect if things go well with the donkey, the verdant fields of England will be rife with camels and anteaters.


Joffan said…
I wonder how Germany's Social Democrats would react to the idea of taxing wind power because it doesn't have to pay carbon tax? Or will they manage to acknowledge that their non-carbon-tax idea has "stupid" written all the way through it?
Anonymous said…
Joffan, the answer to your question is "NO". The philosophy of the Social Democrats - indeed of all socialists and all democrats - is to redistribute wealth from those who produce to those who do not produce. So in their world-view, it is simply acceptable, right and correct to tax nuclear power generators because they are profitable and enrich that which is not profitable (e.g., the so-called renewables).

BTW, Democracy and Socialism are but opposite sides of the same coin. Democracy says the majority is always right regardless of individual's right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and as such the majority has the authority to take by force (economic, military or otherwise) what the individual earns by the sweat of his own brow. Socialism says that it's morally wrong to earn wealth based on the sweat of your own brow, and that you must produce according to your ability so that you can give to everyone else according to their need (which really turns out to be their wants).

Of course this has nothing to do with nuke power, but mark my words - elect Obama and you will sink the nuclear resurgence in the US. It's that simple. Hate Bush and McCain all you want, hate the War in Iraq all you want, McCain really is pro-nuke and Obama is NOT (no matter what Obama says with his mouth to ingratiate himself with the plebians).
Anonymous said…
Have we got a Randian troll here?

Then again, I suppose one argument against a carbon tax would be that it would give the government a financial incentive to oppose nuclear power...
Anonymous said…
George Carty, I am not an Ayn Rand troll, though I do admire some parts of her philosophy. I merely arge that what passes for democracy is nothing other than what the ancient Greeks called "okhlokratía" and the Romans "mobile vulgus". Californians as a mob of fruit and nuts didn't want nuclear power. Now look where they are. The "peepul" deserve what they get.

Hmmmmmm....I like the Latin phrase "mobile vulgus" - the easily moveable mob. A whole lot of left wing news from CNN, ABC, NBC, CBS, and PBS, denigration of any alternative by our beloved Mark Flanagan (i.e., Fox News), and here we are with an energy crisis. My oh my, what a surprise.
Sue said…
Nice article.
@Joffan: lol
Anonymous said…
Er, I thought the Californian blackouts were the result of Enron's corruption, which was made possible by deregulation.

Could it not be argued that power generation on socialist lines would be less afflicted by short-termism (which biases privately-owned generation firms away from nuclear and towards natural gas)?

Think of France for example!
Anonymous said…
California's blackouts were caused by not enough supply for the demand. This was a situation exacerbated by such factor's as the shutdown of SMUD's Rancho Seco, along with the refusal of Californians to accept nuclear energy. That criminals masquerading as entrepeneurs took advantage of this situation is NO different than criminals who masquerade as public servants in the legislature at Sacramento.

A government which can give you everything you wnat can take everything you have away.

As for the example of France, their foray of Areva (one they have with Siemens of Germany) into the US has so far prven to be not exactly profitable. They are doing the digital Reactor Protection upgrade at Oconee. They got the new racks at the plant, then had to ship them back to Europe because of a loss of configuration control. It seems the French and the Germans simply don't understand the word "regulation". Like most socialist societies, regulation is for all the subjects of the realm, not for government and our public masters - er, I mean servants.
Matthew B said…
California's blackouts were caused by not enough supply for the demand.

California placed itself right on the edge by not having enough capacity, but Enron DID shut down operable power plants to manipulate prices higher. This has been shown in the courts by several other utilities that were able to break long term contracts due to the contracts being made under illegal manipulated market prices.

This was a situation exacerbated by such factor's as the shutdown of SMUD's Rancho Seco

That's assuming that SMUD could figure out how to run a B&W unit. At 39% lifetime capacity factor, it was near the bottom of the fleet.

A far bigger impact to the west coast was the shutdown of Trojan. Part of the "crisis" was due to very low generation at hydro plants due to a region wide drought. This left plenty of north - south transmission capacity. Of course that's assuming that PGE would have run Trojan at the time since PGE had been bought by Enron. Trojan might have also suffered some sort of "problem" cause it to be down too.
Anonymous said…
I watch the situation in Germany with great interest because their energy policies are hamstrung in much the same way as we in the US. We seem destined to follow down the same path, with a massive and expensive renewables program, followed by a growing realization that even with conservation measures, it's not enough to meet the needs of a growing economy. Germany's greens are now facing the choice we'll also face: accept the feared problems associated with nuclear power, or accept the very real CO2 (and other) emissions of coal?
Chad said…
From Obama's energy plan

"Nuclear power represents more than 70 percent of our noncarbon generated electricity. It is unlikely that we can meet our aggressive climate goals if we eliminate nuclear power from the table. However, there is no future for expanded nuclear without first addressing four key issues: public right-to-know, security of nuclear fuel and waste, waste storage, and proliferation."

Making Nuclear Power a Republican/Democrat issue only polarizes the issue and does not benefit the cause.

Socialism and Democracy are not opposite sides of the same coin. Socialism is an economic system, Democracy is a political system. Britain, France, Germany--all democratic socialized countries.

Sure would be nice not to allow anon bloggers.
KevinM said…
To me, "on the table" reads a lot like "protect the status quo", which is avoidance and careful words. Hopefully the question will come up in the debates.

"I am for new coal plants, if the carbon can be sequestered safely."

"I am for new gas plants, if the cost can be lowered."

"I am for new nuclear plants, if the waste can be stored safely."

"I am for free lunch, if thats what you would like."

Top 10 US house/senate members for Nuclear and their party affiliation?
Anonymous said…
Chad, when the Dems openly embrace nuke power full throttle as the Repubs have, then I might - just might - have some faith in the Dems.

But sadly, there are other issues at stake than nuke power, and because of them I would never vote Dem. Never ever.

Further, I like being anonymous. My ego doesn't need to be the great "I am" - the liberal who's going to give to the Plebs whatever they want while everything that we who earn gets taken away.
Chad said…
What I believe is best for nuclear is for the issue to left alone. When brought up, it can encourage the issue becoming a lighting rod. The Nuclear Industry should have all it needs (accept for a political solution for the spent fuel) to succeed. The Dems will most likely have control of both houses of Congress. If McCain becomes president and tries to force nuclear down their throats, they could resist. Hopefully, if he does become president, he will try to find the middle ground on the energy issue.

Anons lead to trolls. Use some generic handle like "Narrowminded."
Anonymous said…
Chad, I prefer to avoid handles, whether "narrowminded" or "open so wide my brains fall out". I don't need the ego boost. Stick to nuclear energy.
drbuzz0 said…
When I think of the German energy policy I don't generally think of the push-me-pull-you, which is a sort of llamma with a head on each end.

I more tend to think of an animal with the rear portion on each end thus producing twice as much... well..

Also, it would not be a llama, but rather a bull.

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