Care about the climate? Choose nuclear energy, says VVD
Both Dutch and EU climate policy goals are ambitious with climate neutrality (“no greenhouse gasses”) by 2050 as the ultimate target. Is this goal achievable without nuclear energy? In the fifth episode of this Clingendael Spectator series on the future of Dutch nuclear energy, Mark Harbers of the Dutch People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), opts for a clean energy mix: with offshore wind farms, solar panels and nuclear energy.
My party, the Dutch People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), believes that nuclear energy is needed to achieve the 2050 climate target. Therefore, we have developed a plan to build nuclear power stations in the Netherlands and to keep the existing nuclear power plant in the southern municipality of Borssele open for a longer period of time.
With this proposal we have also campaigned for the most recent parliamentary elections, on 17 March this year, which resulted in the VVD being the biggest party. Although there is still a long way to go before construction can start, our basic idea is quite simple: we do not have the luxury of forgoing nuclear energy.
In 2050, according to the Paris Climate Agreement, the signatories may jointly no longer emit CO2. This has been agreed on in order to combat global warming and all the problems that it entails, such as rising sea levels.
A low-lying and densely populated industrial country such as the Netherlands, which has been fighting water for centuries, feels the urgency to combat such problems resulting from climate change.
We will not get there with only solar parks and wind farms
The VVD is therefore fully behind this climate goal, but it is crucial that we are able to use all means. We will not get there with only solar parks and wind farms. After all, the sun does not always shine, it can be windless and there are still insufficient usable ways to store excess solar and wind power.
As a result, there is a chance that our homes, companies and hospitals will experience more frequent power cuts – without reducing climate change. We do not want that.
In addition, the demand for electricity will increase enormously in the coming years, for example due to digitalisation, the growth in the number of electric cars and the production of green hydrogen. Indeed, a lot of clean electricity will soon be needed.
Therefore, the Netherlands must have a secure and stable power supply based on different energy sources. Why should we declare the most sustainable and efficient of these, nuclear energy, as taboo – like other parties do?
Nuclear energy is carbon free
The benefits of nuclear energy are so obvious that it can safely be called miraculous that opponents are so persistent in their ‘njet’. After all, it is carbon free, provides a secure electricity supply and is the most powerful energy source there is.
With nuclear energy, the Netherlands will also be a lot less dependent on natural gas from authoritarian countries
Unlike solar and wind farms, a nuclear power station takes up little space. This is not unimportant in a small country like the Netherlands, which has to unite so many interests and also likes to keep beautiful landscapes.
With nuclear energy, the Netherlands will also be a lot less dependent on natural gas from authoritarian countries with which we prefer to do as little business as possible, such as Russia or countries in the Middle East.
This all could be true, but it is far too expensive, opponents say. However, solar and wind energy are also not ’for free’, as they might seem. The costs of building the ‘power outlet’ for offshore wind are paid by the taxpayer. Installing solar and wind energy also requires adjustments to the electricity grid, which the taxpayer contributes to.
On the other hand, wind farms are now being put out to tender without subsidy, even though a subsidy was previously required. This tender system is also possible for nuclear energy. Moreover, the price tag of new nuclear energy is nothing compared to the high costs of an uncertain electricity supply in an advanced country like the Netherlands.
Just look at Germany, which is closing all of its nuclear power plants. The result is more air pollution, instability in the electricity grid and higher electricity prices than in neighbouring France, which mostly runs on nuclear energy.1
About ten per cent of the global electricity supply already comes from nuclear power plants
It is also expected that the wholesale price for electricity in Germany will rise even further, partly as a result of the nuclear phaseout; the so-called Atomausstieg. In addition, Germany has 36 million tons of extra CO2 emissions per year due to the closure of nuclear power plants.2
Opponents are disqualifying nuclear technology as ‘from the past’. But as is clear from the fact that dozens of nuclear power plants are being built worldwide, nuclear energy is not from the past, it is the future. About 10 per cent of the global electricity supply already comes from nuclear power plants – in the European Union as much as 25 per cent. The United Nations climate panel also concludes that nuclear energy is part of the solution to the climate problem. 3
Clean energy mix
Nuclear safety is a topic of the utmost importance. The Chernobyl and Fukushima incidents raise serious concerns with opponents of nuclear energy as well as with a wider audience. Also, nuclear waste is a concern to many people because of radiation danger. Both are often mentioned to oppose the case for nuclear power plants.
As a matter of fact, the hundreds of nuclear power plants in the world are all running without significant problems. And for the small amount of nuclear waste that remains after the production of nuclear energy, increasingly smarter solutions are being developed, like the re-usage of nuclear waste on site.
Nuclear power plants are so safe that it could be argued that rapid global warming from the use of fossil fuels poses many more risks than nuclear energy. We are not claiming that using nuclear energy comes with zero risk, but the comparison with fossil fuels is valid when one takes into account public health issues related to carbon emissions. Nevertheless, we explicitly say: the strict safety requirements that apply to nuclear energy in the Netherlands remain in force and nuclear waste will be stored extremely safely.
We opt for a clean energy mix: with offshore wind farms, solar panels and nuclear energy
We believe that anyone who really cares about the climate cannot rule out nuclear energy. So, we opt for a clean energy mix: with offshore wind farms, solar panels on as many roofs as possible, and nuclear energy.
To achieve this, we want to create better preconditions for nuclear energy, provide financial support where necessary and keep the nuclear power plant in Borssele – which can still run for years – open for a longer period of time. We also advocate for the EU to include nuclear energy in the taxonomy for sustainable activities, so that nuclear energy is eligible for European subsidies and attracts more private investors.
In the coming years, crucial decisions will have to be made regarding the Dutch electricity supply up to 2050. The VVD’s answer is: nuclear energy, yes please!
- 1Michael Shellenberger, ‘Why I changed my mind about nuclear energy’, TEDxBerlin, TEDxTalks, 17 November 2017.
- 2‘Voor een CO2-vrije toekomst is kernenegie nodig’ [For a CO2-free future, nuclear energy is needed], Financieel Dagblad, 31 January 2020.
- 3In the four most important scenarios of the IPCC to limit global warning to 1.5 degrees Celsius, the use of nuclear energy increases. See: ‘Summary for policymakers’. Or, more specifically: ‘Characteristics of four illustrative model pathways’.