German Nuclear Phase Out Boosted Emissions by 5% and Caused Over 10,000 Deaths

Carnegie Mellon University, Berkeley and other researchers used hourly data on power plant operations and a novel machine learning framework to estimate how German electrical plants would have operated differently if the nuclear phase-out had not occurred.

They found that the lost nuclear electricity production due to the phase-out was replaced primarily by coal-fired production and net electricity imports. The social cost of this shift from nuclear to coal is approximately 12 billion dollars per year. Over 70% of this cost comes from the increased mortality risk associated with exposure to the local air pollution emitted when burning fossil fuels. Even the largest estimates of the reduction in the costs associated with nuclear accident risk and waste disposal due to the phase-out are far smaller than 12 billion dollars.

There was an additional 36 million tons of carbon dioxide per year, or about a 5 percent increase in emissions. Burning more coal led to local increases in particle pollution and sulfur dioxide and likely killed an additional 1,100 people per year from respiratory or cardiovascular illnesses.

In the ten years from 2011 to 2020, this led to over 10,000 deaths from air pollution.

63 thoughts on “German Nuclear Phase Out Boosted Emissions by 5% and Caused Over 10,000 Deaths”

  1. Why would Germany need to do anything like that? The Moroccans already live in a desert and will use both their solar power and their air conditioning locally. And Germany can feel good about itself locally too.

  2. Nearly all the deaths in Hiroshima and Nagasaki were either from blast and burn injuries, the same as in a conventional explosive or incendiary attack, or from neutrons and gamma radiation released in the instant of the chain reaction. Fission products were much less significant, as shown by the fact that the cities have been continuously occupied ever since. Thyroid damage to kids was the exception – that’s also the cause of most of illness caused at Chernobyl. Since the iodine 131 that causes that only has an eight day half life, and can be countered just by avoiding local dairy food and taking non-radioactive iodine for a few months, it should not be a problem at Fukushima, or at any future nuclear incident.

  3. I’m starting see more and more studies of the form, “We trained a deep learning network on a bunch of data and then used it to predict some stuff,” and the results being passed off as science. This is going to be a problem.

    One of the nice things about science is that your peers will eventually require you to prove that your results are correct, and aren’t merely the product of intuition, either human- or machine-generated. You can’t do that with machine learning systems.

    We already have reproducibility crises cropping up in economics and social science from the uncritical use and manipulation of shoddy statistics using statistical suites that ordinary mortals don’t really understand. Machine learning is going to make this about a hundred times worse.

  4. Stop pretending to be obtuse just because you don’t agree with their priorities. You think CO₂ is a bigger more immediate risk than nuclear accidents and they don’t. Fukushima daiichi simply made their existing long term plans to exit nuclear more immediate. Not every decision made in the world is about CO₂, there are other problems.

  5. In Australia we can’t spray the weeds in national forests; can’t kill the carp; can’t dredge the silting rivers; can’t have nuclear; can’t have gas; can’t cull animals; can’t have hydro power etc.. The Greens are the enemy of the environment.
    The Greens were about to make an issue of salt in the Murray Darling River — until someone took a bulldozer and quietly dug some diversion channels. Now there’s less salt than there was 200 years ago. The intention of the Greens was to stop diversion work and focus upon us all going back to nature.

  6. The sun exist. Build a probe with a small sail and a large sail. The small sail is to lower the orbit to about a solar radii. The large sail is to drive it out of the solar system.

  7. Morocco has always been at war with Western Sahara.

    Don’t have to build a transmission line all the way to Germany. Just to Spain, and the boot of Italy.

  8. You don’t need to send the power from Morocco to Germany. With Morocco growing and developing they need the power right there.
    Build solar power in Africa, use solar power in Africa. It still reduces world CO2 emissions and sending the power to Germany isn’t needed.
    Of course this doesn’t work if the Africans move to Germany…

  9. I’m not sure I agree with your assessment that staying in power proves you are bright. Do you think Stalin was bright? I would say he was cunning and paranoid, and that was what kept him in power. He was also a hard worker and killed off potential rivals all the time. But bright…?

  10. The people who are either born in those countries of born of two parents of those countries are over represented in crime, so no, that would not be racist. Furthermore, they have lower income and have a lower social status/situation than the average for “regular” germans. So if you believe that these are risk factors, you believe that those immigrants will have a larger probability to riot.

  11. Germany has problems to build power lines from the North Sea to Bavaria – 800 km. Starting out from a not so terribly reliable country in the first place, how long do you think it will take to build power lines over 3000 km through 3 different countries. Bear in mind that Morocco is at war with Western Sahara.

  12. The best way to do that would be to take out all the solar panels in Germany & reinstall them somewhere south of the Mediterranean. Oh & restart all their nuclear plants.

  13. I looked briefly through the report which Brian Wang quotes. It does not refer to the conundrum which the government in Germany (and other countries) has with the coal industry – also their labor unions. The binding agreement is (unfortunately) to guarantee jobs in a dying industry. The predicament in e.g. Australia or the US is similar. The situation isn’t black-and-white.
    Without looking up the exact numbers, I’m pretty certain that the fraction of energy consumed from renewable sources in Germany is much greater than in the US.
    Then of note is the title to this draft(?) article, which is: “THE PRIVATE AND EXTERNAL COSTS OF GERMANY’S NUCLEAR PHASE-OUT “. On the other hand, word “radioactivity” appears ONCE in the article. The authors misspell Universität Regensburg as “Regensberg University “.
    PS, on the subject of radioactivity, the process of extracting uranium salts from underground deposits in southern Texas contaminated ground water. The same has come to light in conventional and fracking mining.

  14. The majority of humanity lives within the band. Granted, many of them can’t afford air conditioning, but this will change over the next 30 years. Germany can do their part by subsidizing Morocco’s development of solar.

  15. Yeah, plenty of power on summer days when you don’t need light or heating, none on winter nights when you do.

  16. Maybe my response was a bit over the top. Not a big fan of Social Darwinism even tongue-in-cheek. We all make mistakes, and especially young minds are not developed enough to use proper judgment. Ideally, the youth should be monitored, and protected from their own poor judgment. Perhaps I am still following the analogy too closely.
    If what you are saying is that “Who cares if Germany slides a bit due to stupid decisions, others will show the right way forward”.
    I actually like Germany and Japan doing well economically because they have things in their Constitutions that reduce the chance that their economic success will turn into leaders pushing other countries around militarily. With China and Russia you have no such assurances. Not that they really look like visionaries when it comes to power plants…yet.

  17. Most really smart people find a way to avoid being laborers…because laboring hurts…especially after 35. But if there is anyone a laborer does not like, it is people who don’t labor…especially those who don’t appreciate laborers, put them down, or downright abuse them. It takes very little to get them to rise up and take out all the others, or most of the others.
    And we absolutely should respect laborers. And not just to keep our heads.
    This is one of the reasons I Don’t like Trump. Most of our genuine laborers (using manual tools, lifting and carrying things…not talking about pushing buttons, petals and moving leavers) are Latin Americans. And he shows nothing but contempt for their labor. To me that is beyond merely distasteful.

  18. Racist much ? The good citizens of white Montreal were rioting after half a day of a police strike – you don’t have to be brown.

  19. There are places in Europe where earthquakes do happen…mostly associated with vulkanism rather than plate movement. Germany just is not one of those places. But I am sure you are right. If some fat meteorite struck Germany and caused an earthquake, those non-operating nuclear power plants would be just fine. If they are not going to use them as power plants, they should make them bomb shelters/emergency shelters.

  20. Merkel: “Hydrocarbon power will kill us all and destroy the planet. We must transition to carbon free power”.

    Me: “Ok lets figure out a cost effective way to do this that will actually work.”

    Merkel: “The first thing we will do to transition away from Hydrocarbon power sources is to eliminate our nuclear power and replace it with coal.”

    Me: “…”

  21. Those 10 000 deaths are permanent. Solar power sats or deep rock geothermal plants built in 2080 aren’t going to reverse this at all.

  22. But as the French revolution showed (and the experiment was re-run dozens of times (from Russia to Cambodia), just to tighten up the confidence intervals) the set of people who end up getting guillotined and the set of people who were responsible for the problems in the first place, are not identical, if they are even intersecting.

  23. She’s “not very bright”, but somehow she has managed to remain in control of a major nation like Germany by doing the “not bright” things.

    I think that you are incorrect in your assessment of her brightness.

    Now if you were to say that the voters weren’t very bright, that I could believe.

  24. Pro-nuke: the intersection on the venn diagram between environmentally minded people and people who actually like to accomplish their goals in life.

  25. Do we could everyone killed by chemical explosives, and projectiles fired with chemical propellants, as being “deaths from oil and coal”?

  26. Yah, you’re right.

    So, maybe the French Revolution Solution?  
    Guillotines were quite efficient!
    No fuel required. 
    Environmentally friendly wood construction.

    And, I’m quite certain there’d be no end of volunteers willing to “pull the lever” either. All those deprived of their grandmothers and asthmatic parents, due to (fill-in-the-blank). AGW, coal dust, sulfates, great spotted horny-toadies. 

    ⋅-⋅-⋅ Just saying, ⋅-⋅-⋅
    ⋅-=≡ GoatGuy ✓ ≡=-⋅

  27. The problem with your analogy is that the decision makers are not the same people dying due to those decisions. It is the little asthmatic kid in the third grade who was playing on the playground at recess who had an attack and died, or the 80 year old woman who had been breathing all this crud and then got the flu. And the flu was just enough combined with the poor quality air to make it so her grandchildren will never receive her love and cookies.

  28. Sure. Have a review for an earthquake…that does not happen in Germany. That review should take about 4 seconds, if it was given the time it deserved.

  29. The people who made the decision were concerned that they could lose the next election. The CDU, Merkel’s party, was the only conservative party in the Bundestag. So to win more votes, Merkel implemented green (shutting down nuclear power plants) and leftist policies (import unqualified and illegal people into the German welfare state). She is very power-obsessed but not very bright when she has to think about the consequences of her policies. To lower CO2 levels, she should have called for shutting down coal plants and replacing them with gas, nuclear energy and renewables (as long as they are not subsidized). But she and the majority of German politicians are completely incompetent. Shutting down nuclear led to more coal usage and subsidized renewables led to a doubling of energy prices. So nothing was gained. Germany has become a madhouse and this is just the beginning. The upcoming destruction of the German car industry and the highest taxes in the world will lead to a rapid decline of prosperity. Qualified people will go elsewhere.

  30. So, seriously … WHO CARES?
    Darwinism at work. 

    I, like a couple of my friends, in our youth made happy play out of tearing apart firecrackers and collecting the dust to build much bigger firecrackers. Big bada BOOM firecrackers. However, they were dangerous. Increasingly so naturally, with increasing size. No one lost more than a bit of their hearing, but eventually the fun wore off, and we found other ways to distract our parents.  

    Some years later, I met a fellow how hadn’t been anywhere near as lucky. Blew off 3 fingers AND lost sight in both eyes. Hearing mostly unaffected tho’. 

    Was a programmer, of all things! Wrote really good code that was horrible to read, never having the benefit of “eyes to see it”. I volunteered to write a program to clean up his code without changing it, just properly indenting and spacing things. Apparently that made him forever in my debt, tho’ I didn’t see it that way. 

    Point tho’ is, there are Darwin Awards for even more egregious (or epic, as is the case) lapses of judgement, rendering the (mostly male) contestant either unable to have children, or with less wiggle room, simply dead.  

    Mightn’t the Germans (and frankly most of Europe) be doing just thus?

    Darwin’s reward is clear.
    No kids, for bad decisions.

    ⋅-⋅-⋅ Just saying, ⋅-⋅-⋅
    ⋅-=≡ GoatGuy ✓ ≡=-⋅

  31. Whether solar panels are worth while depends on your latitude. In a broad band either side of the equator seasonal variation in sunlight is modest & air conditioning is a bigger energy use than space heating so power demand tends to peak when sunlight is most intense. Outside that band solar power peaks when demand is least & solar is not worth it for any but a few niche uses. Europe north of the Alps is outside that band.

  32. The people who made the decision were probably concerned that they could lose the opportunity to impose it on Germany at any moment. And if done gradually the decision might have been reversed when the consequences became apparent.

    Rushing into an irreversible policy when you get the momentary power to impose it is becoming a common problem in the West.

  33. Most of the fears about nuclear are nearly nothing against having no electrical power for some time. We in Germany are moving continously nearer to blackout situations every day.

    Forget about “fission products”. Compared to the deadly risks of being “powerless” they are of minimum effect.

    If a blackout situation appears in Germany we will not only have victims at crossroads because of disfunctional traffic lights. There is al real chance of violent rumor in the larger cities because of 2,5 million people from countries like Afghanistan, Irak, Syria, Nigeria, Eritrea, Somalia and so on, who might take the chance to rob, steal an murder under such a situation.

    The number of 1100 people dying p.a. by the consequences of air pollution could be reached within several days of blackout.

  34. Oh come on. This a local transitional and temporary issue stemming from a quick decision. It won’t be the norm, and to portray it as such is disingenuous. Whether the coal plants operate on German soil or they’re fed in from other countries, they’re all going to meet the same fate as other plants as portrayed lately on the 10 PM news–they will be shut down, at an accelerating pace.  Don’t fixate on it like it’s permanent and the new norm.  It’s just a moment in time.

  35. I find it incredible that the Germans have done this without a carbon free alternative in place. Burning coal not only releases CO2 as well as SO2 but nasty things such as Mercury and radioactive particles deposited long ago in the coal beds. What can you say ????????

  36. D Drake, Here’s two obvious examples of “fission products related death” and their consequences that you didn’t consider.

    “Fission products” intentionally released by the two nuclear bombs Democrat President Harry Truman decided to drop on Nagasaki and Hiroshima in 1945 directly resulted in the deaths of ~150,000 Japanese. But also brought a swift end to WW2 and likely prevented another 1-2 million American and Japanese deaths from continuing the conflict.

  37. Let me rephrase that is terms most people can relate to.
    So, suppose someone is ill, very ill, and needs treatment to survive. A treatment is available, but it costs some, hurts a little, and involves dreadful moments, most of which happen while subject is well restrained and unconscious. Instead of “OK, what are we waiting for?”, the subject asks the following:
    — do I really have to pay for it? really???
    — can someone else do the subject part for me?
    — why is it not strawberry flavoured?!!
    — I really do not feel like it today, let’s postpone it for 50 years, shall we?
    — why so difficullt??!!!111
    — why so negative???
    If any or all of that happened in real life, the sickly idiot would be let go to perish on his idiotic terms.

  38. Good we’ll bury their corpses in your backyard.

    Green ghoul’s don’t give a rat’s ass about dead bodies as long as we are on the way to their renewable fantasy land. The cost of nuclear – now that’s a real issue despite the large monetary cost of that loss of life.

    Of course Germans felt the same way in the 1930’s while on their way to a different fantasy land. Is there something in the water?

  39. I for one am pro-green, and pro-nuke.
    I think we should have solar panels and batteries on every home, business, school, and public building. We should also have wind farms, both on-shore and off-shore. And, keep hydroelectric dams running at full-capacity. And we should also be building out more nuclear power as well.

    I am in favor of moving us towards a type-1 civilization, while also not destroying our ecosystems. This will require a large amount of energy.
    Think about this, the largest nuclear power plant right now, produces about 8GW of power. If we built another one of those, in the atacama desert, and built a laser array(an 8GW one), you’d end up with a 2.6GW output, enough for 9N thrust on a light sail. That gets you 0.00036m/s accelleration for a 25 tonne space probe. We could send a probe out to 500AU in only 20 years.

  40. ZERO. And that covers the entire world.

    I found 1 “fission products” related death that you missed:

  41. People die all the time, you send your thoughts and prayers, maybe some flowers and then you get on with living. Moving on from “fission products” in your neighborhood takes a lot longer.
    Unless you live in a handful of locales, no one is stopping you from covering your neighborhood with fission plants, show them how it’s done. Just don’t be offended if other people have different priorities, their concerns & choices aren’t illegitimate, low probability events does not mean zero probability.

    The dangers of fission has nothing to do with dead bodies.
    ~1,300 people in the USA die everyday due to smoking, 100/day die in both car accidents and gun violence, it’s not a big deal, it’s the typical personal tragedy that doesn’t impact society.

    First SLS core is finally finish, aren’t you excited?

  42. Pro-nukers are anti-green and pro-green are anti-nuke. Maybe if both side would learn to co-exist then we could end the scourge of fossil fuel power.

  43. It tells you one thing. Burning coal sickens and kills. As for abolishing nuke, that transition should have been slower. The German should not have panic. They should have reviewed the nuclear power plant safety systems and made the necessary changes. And during the project life spans of the nuclear power plants made the transition to renewable or inherently safe nuclear power plants.

  44. This is why climate change activism is not taken seriously by so many. They almost had, what they claim they have always wanted, in their grasp and then chose not to act on it. But instead to go in the opposite direction. They don’t want solutions, they want power.

  45. It’s low energy solar hydrino fusion reactions, DUH. xD Sirry, I couldn’t resist.

    It probably really is hot fusion, though. Or some combination of hot fusion, solar, and maybe LENR. Or, something we have yet to discover.

    There do appear to be several promising hot fusion projects getting close to the punch. That’s what I’m waiting for. Hopefully we won’t have to wait much longer.

  46. Every form of Energy production carries some risk, but to judge it: How many people in Germany died from “fission products”?

  47. “if only there was a viable, reliable, alternative source of energy that is low in greenhouse gas emisions and plentiful”

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