Now, Copenhagen is hosting the COP15 conference but Denmark is not the guiding force behind it – the U.N. just likes to put its big meetings in different member countries (COP14 was in Poland, for example.) Still, we were curious to know where the Danes are with nuclear energy and happily, well, unhappily as it turns out, the Danish Ministry of Climate and Energy has posted an article to the COP15 site (the minister is Lykke Friis, but she doesn’t sign the article).
Risø is situated on a peninsula at Roskilde Fjord. The location was chosen because from its inception in 1958 the research plant was intended as a research station for nuclear power.
Despite the oil crisis, with its expensive heating and car-free Sundays, the popular and political opposition to nuclear power had increased and was blocking the use of nuclear power in Denmark.
The cooperation between research, industry and politics created a basis for growth that allowed the fledgling Danish wind turbine industry to survive the sector’s substantial decline at the end of the 1980s, when the vast majority of foreign producers went bankrupt because of discontinued subsidy schemes in the American market, which had propelled development.
Well, we can’t blame the Danes for promoting an industry they’ve excelled in – it’s an investment that’s paid off over time. The Danes really like wind energy – check out the home page of the Ministry – it’s like Wind City.
But clapping your hands over your green bona fides introduces a couple of problems. First, Denmark is a tiny country which is part of multi-country electricity grids. This can have benefits in the renewable sphere:
The wind turbines depend heavily for their effective utilization on 27 GWe of hydro capacity in Norway, over 1 GWe of which can be dispatched when wind power is unavailable in West Denmark. With good winds, power can be exported back to Norway and there conserve hydro potential.
But also (and you knew it was coming):
The power imported from Sweden (1.7 billion kWh in 2006, 7.6 billion kWh in 2005) is almost half nuclear and half hydro, the power (4 billion kWh in 2006, 0.6 billion kWh in 2005) imported from Germany is largely generated by brown coal and nuclear power (Germany itself imports 15 to 20 billion kWh/yr from France, which is 80% nuclear).
Which only means you can only control what you can control and if Denmark needs to import electricity, what else can it do? Its hands are clean even where its feet are a bit muddy.
And that might be all to the good:
Public opinion on nuclear power has shifted dramatically in the last two years as the energy source is increasingly viewed as a way to mitigate climate change, reports Danish newspaper Berlingske Tidende.
A Gallup survey conducted for the newspaper indicates a majority want nuclear energy used to reduce CO2 emissions. In a similar survey in 2007, only a quarter of respondents were willing to accept electricity produced by nuclear power plants. The latest survey shows 54 percent in favor.
That’s a huge change in such a short time and we can’t help but wonder if Denmark’s public efforts on energy issues hasn’t created this result. An unintended consequence? Perhaps – but when climate change becomes paramount, as we’ve seen here, nuclear energy’s benefit spring right to the fore. Consider this a demonstration.
The Forsmark nuclear plant in Sweden.