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With and Without Nuclear Energy in Denmark

MEDIAARCH_0004477_1 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.

Didn’t happen.

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.


Charles Barton said…
What Is usually not recognized about the Danish electrical system is the extent that Amory Lovins' basic ideas are embodied in its design. We have extensive use of Combined Heat and Power generation, and the extensive use of biomas burning in electrical generation , the consequences are some of the highest per capata CO2 emission rates in Europe and Europe's most expensive electrical power. France, in contrast produces a little more than half of the CO2 per capata as Denmark, and its electricity costs half as much. So much for following Amory Lovins' ideas.
Brian Mays said…
"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."

Regardless of what they say they are willing to accept, the simple truth is that the Danes already do accept electricity produced by nuclear power plants -- about 4 TWh in 2007 or roughly 10% of the electricity that they consume -- all of it imported from other countries. Meanwhile, it's own much-touted domestic wind capacity supplies only about 10% of its electricity consumption (it has been as low as 5% in 2006), if a recently released report on the Danish wind industry is accurate.

In other words, some years Denmark is as much nuclear powered as it is wind powered.

Nevertheless, Denmark has built an entire industry that is based on nothing more than mining the subsidies schemes of other countries. Thus, it has a significant financial stake in the outcome of COP15. It's no wonder that the Danes are happy to host this conference.
Anonymous said…
The power imported from Sweden (1.7 billion kWh in 2006, 7.6 billion kWh in 2005) is almost half nuclear and half hydro

That leads to an interesting question -- HOW does on import power over a large water gap? Have they hung high tension lines across the Baltic, or what?
Brian Mays said…
"HOW does one import power over a large water gap?"

Usually, it's by submarine power cable. Denmark is not that far from Norway, and it's even closer to Sweden. The two countries can literally see each other across a narrow straight of water. For specific examples, see


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