A few days ago we talked to Ingrid Nestle, a Green Party Parliament Member who is strongly opposed to nuclear power and even led a large nuclear protest just a few weeks ago. Today we visited a nuclear power plant located just outside of Hamburg, to get a different perspective on nuclear and experience the technology for ourselves.
Security was tight at the nuclear power plant. Our names were submitted to the facility far in advance and we had to produce passports and get a body pat down before being able to take the tour. In the United States, we aren’t even allowed to get close to nuclear power plants. We didn’t go into the highest security areas, but we got a fairly comprehensive tour of the facility.
We learned that it takes 5 years to build a nuclear power plant, but between 10-15 years and half a billion dollars to dismantle.
In Germany, nuclear delivers roughly 50% of the country’s base load 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Peak demands are at breakfast, lunch and dinner. Currently the biggest problem in the world of energy is storage. Germany gets a lot of energy from wind, especially in the North. However, our tour guide told us that wind and other alternative energies need to be supplemented with coal or nuclear to balance out the varying levels of energy that wind and other alternatives are able to produce. Whereas in the United States the vast majority of our energy comes from coal, Germany’s energy portfolio is more diverse.
Germany’s energy in 2009 came from the following sources:
Nuclear: 50% (compare with 20% in the U.S.)
Renewables: 16% (compare with 7% in the U.S.)
Breakdown of renewables in Germany:
- Geothermal: 0.2%
- Photovoltaics: 6.2%
- Waste: 5%
- Biofuels: 25%
- Wind: 37.8%
- Hydro: 19%
Germany expects to have more energy coming from wind in the next two or three years as off shore becomes a more viable option. The hope is that the wind resources coming from off shore will be more reliable than on-shore wind. Off shore wind is stronger and blows more frequently.
There are a few different kinds of nuclear power plants. Germany has both Boiling Water and Pressurized Water Reactors. Brokdorf has a Pressurized Water Reactor. The pressure inside the reactor is very high (approximately 158 times higher than normal atmospheric pressure). This facility has an airplane safe storage facility for spent nuclear rods, but long-term storage is still an issue for Germany and the world.
The plant in Brokdorf is one of the larger nuclear power plants in the world. It produces 1480 megawatts daily, 1420 of which go directly into the grid (the remainder is used to power the facility). The energy produced by this plant can power 90% of Hamburg, which has a population of 1.8 million. Only France has nuclear power plants that are bigger.
There were a range of reactions (no pun intended) to the nuclear power tour amidst our group. Some students were excited to be able to get so close to the technology, others just stood in awe at the advanced technology as we walked through and others felt fear while being so close to a technology that is so controversial.
I think it was a tour that none of us will forget. Now that they’ve been presented with both sides, students are now left to figure out what they think about nuclear power as an option for the world moving forward.