TR: Sweden is cutting greenhouse gas emissions to meet its commitments under the Kyoto protocol. Germany, which has its own nuclear phase-out on the books, is barely holding emissions steady. Could either country continue to control carbon dioxide emissions without nuclear?
LJ: Not in the short term, which is to say the next 10 to 15 years. With its aging power-plant fleet, Germany has an enormous need for new generation capacity in the coming decade, and emissions-free fossil generation [via carbon sequestration] is not yet commercially available.
TR: Would your company, Vattenfall, build new reactors in Germany if their phase-out was scrapped?
LJ: It’s always delicate to be quoted about such a hypothetical situation. But we are a large, professional nuclear operator and we have a great deal of nuclear know-how. If Germany’s policy changes and the public accepts that change, we would consider that when we decide on new investments. Currently, a majority of the German population is still negative towards nuclear power.
TR: Nuclear energy’s critics question whether financial markets will provide the capital for new plants. Has carbon trading changed that equation by forcing fossil-fueled plants to internalize the cost of their greenhouse gas emissions, at more than $30 per ton of carbon released?
LJ: Yes. The business case looks much better than it did five years ago. The rising cost of carbon emissions is a significant component of that case in Europe. The other, of course, is a general increase in the cost of primary energy, whether it’s oil, gas, or coal. Few believe we will see a reverse in either trend.
TR: The European Commission is trying to forge a coordinated energy policy for the European Union. What does that mean for nuclear power?
LJ: We will see a move towards a common EU energy policy, in which energy security and climate change will be high priorities. Both of those points lead in the direction of nuclear power. However, for the foreseeable future, the decision [whether or not to build new nuclear plants] will be left to the respective member states.