Professor, you are a Nobel Prize winner in physics and were energy minister in the Obama administration. In April you signed a petition to preserve Germany's nuclear power plants. Why?

Morten Freidel

Editor in politics of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung

I was convinced that the Germans could not replace the energy that these power plants provide. At least not just through renewables. I thought they would end up needing fossil fuel power plants for this. And that's exactly what happened. Look, we had the same problem in California. Sixty percent of our electricity supply came from climate-friendly sources, ten percent was nuclear. The governor wanted to shut down the last two nuclear power plants. We were able to convince him that California would not achieve its climate goals if he took this ten percent off the grid. So he reversed his decision. I wish Germany had done the same.

Steven Chu is a professor of physics at Stanford University.  In 1997 he won the Nobel Prize in Physics.  From 2009 to 2013 he was Energy Secretary under Barack Obama.

Steven Chu is a professor of physics at Stanford University. In 1997 he won the Nobel Prize in Physics. From 2009 to 2013 he was Energy Secretary under Barack Obama.

Image: The Royal Society

Does Germany really need these nuclear power plants? We want to build a climate-neutral energy system with wind and solar energy and with gas power plants that run when the wind doesn't blow and the sun doesn't shine.

This is an enormous challenge. Think of heavy industry, especially the chemical and petrochemical industries, BASF for example. They have factories that you don't just turn on and off like: Oops, we're out of power right now, so let's shut them down for a day. Even an assembly factory, a car factory or a semiconductor manufacturing plant requires extremely stable electricity. Society must understand that these industries need cheap electricity, 24/7. And if they don't get it, they will be significantly affected. This could lead to an exodus of heavy industry from Germany, and that would be catastrophic for the German economy. So when individual people say they don't want this, they don't want that, they don't want nuclear power, they don't want coal, they can do everything with renewable energies, then these people obviously don't run semiconductor factories, chemical factories or manufacturing plants. So the question for the Germans is: Do they want a prosperous economy, do they want to maintain jobs and prosperity while achieving their climate goals, or do they just want to achieve their climate goals?

Energy from wind and sun could still be stored.

Seasonal storage is very expensive because you only need the storage once or twice a year. That's too rare. And when operators then charge the amount they need to survive, costs go through the roof. These are the things that opponents of nuclear power need to think about.

This text comes from the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung.

Nuclear power plants are dangerous.

But how dangerous? I was in Korea a few months ago and people were demonstrating against the nuclear power plant in Fukushima dumping radioactive water into the sea. I read the International Atomic Energy Agency report on this. If they eat fish three or four times a week that comes from the three-kilometer zone where the Fukushima nuclear reactor discharges its wastewater, their radiation exposure would be lower than if they eat a banana or a peel of Chinese collard greens once a year , which contains radioactive potassium. Many people don't understand that they eat a few percent of natural radioactivity for a good, balanced diet. No authority says: Don't eat bananas, don't eat spinach, don't eat vegetables because of the radiation. There is no evidence that these very, very low doses are harmful to health. But if they don't eat their vegetables, it will harm their health. And burning coal and gas seriously damages their health. Burning coal releases nitrogen oxides and especially fine dust. Internal combustion engines release particulate matter, especially diesel engines, burning wood pellets releases particulate matter. Look at the World Health Organization data. Air pollution is the third leading cause of premature death.