Skip to content

⚡ "What Germany Got Wrong about Nuclear Power"

This Week in Startups

Photo by Christian Wiediger / Unsplash

Table of Contents

Hosts: Jason Calacanis & Molly Wood
Guest: Mark Nelson | Managing Director | Radiant Energy Fund
Category: ⚡ Renewable Energy

Podcast’s Essential Bites:

[41:01] “There's a group called Environmental Defense Fund, […] [which] make[s] alterations to our nation's energy mix, like cutting New York City off of clean power and switching it out with natural gas a few years ago. So the Radiant Energy Fund is a new sort of response to the Environmental Defense Fund, where effectively it's my vehicle for doing charitable work. […] Radiant Energy Fund stops endangered nuclear plants from closing.

[42:21] “The first thing to know is that there's no such thing as the nuclear industry. […] Most nuclear plants already exist and they're operated by utilities. Those utilities have certain ways of making money. And if nuclear doesn't fit, they'll scrap their plants. Doesn't matter how devastating that is to a nation’s security doesn't matter what it does to climate change. If politicians who want nuclear closed, give a pay and an off ramp, combined with a proper threat against utilities, utilities are regulated beasts, they'll do whatever you want.”

[44:23] “In California […] the ratepayers already paid about $800 million to upgrade the [Diablo Canyon nuclear] plant for the next 20 years. It could probably go for another 40 to 60 after that if it's kept in good condition. And the plant is profitable. […] So [the closure] is strictly strictly only a political play by a relatively small number of people in California’s society. And the problem is, it's a giant chunk of the remaining self produced energy of California. And it's one of the only power plants in California not affected by heat waves or fires. […] It's right at the ocean, so it's not going to run out of cooling water, and it's not going to be forced off by a fire unless it takes down the transmission lines.”

[50:43] “Of course, if you're looking at it from carbon, nuclear wins. […] There was an intentional strategy to make the tiny, infinitesimally small amount of waste coming out of nuclear be a problem for nuclear. So once that's a problem, you say it demands a solution. Then if you can politically block the construction of a solution, you can block the construction of nuclear. So that's, for example, what they did in California. They said, no more nuclear until you have waste depositories and then they fought and successfully defeated the waste depository.”

[52:47] “Nuclear startups are a weird environment. How do you do a nuclear startup when you're first […] electricity sales are gonna be optimistically a decade away at any given time? And you need maybe a billion or two to start your first reactor. What does it even mean to have a startup? It would mean that only the biggest industrial groups or the biggest backers could do a nuclear startup is a labor of love.”

[58:15] “To sum up a lot of research both on the ground in Germany, rural Germany, Berlin, Munich, […] as far as we can see, it's this: Germany lost a war they'd started in their shame and in their defeat, not only did they rebuild their country without a military and without nuclear weapons, but they were divided dramatically down the middle with the Cold War seem right going through their capital. Where nuclear weapons were pointed at two halves of the world against each other over Germany. And Germany previously, one of the mightiest countries on earth, was humiliated and threatened with forces far outside their control and no ability to defend.

[59:18] “All of those things […] came out of this psychology, that is an inability to defend and a need to write a new story for Germany, a better Germany, that acknowledges a painful past but moves beyond it. And […] when I talk to Germans, the emotional tenor of the argument about nuclear energy is unchanged if I switch the conversation of nuclear weapons. They see it as its light as the same thing. […] Nuclear is the most powerful force in the world. And people can't decide in their heart fundamentally, whether they think it's a powerful force for good or for evil. And Germany, and at least the loudest Germans, came down on the side of evil. And they don’t really acknowledge the difference between their power and their defense.”

[1:04:52] “[The] Chernobyl Nuclear Plant kept operating for nearly 14 years [after its catastrophe]. […] It's because if you know where the radiation is and you clean it up […]. And Chernobyl didn't close because it was old, it closed because the European Union made Chernobyl’s closing a condition of support for helping clean up the reactor number four that had blown up. And Ukraine, for what it's worth, demanded help completing another one of their nuclear plants in a big cash payment to do so. So the Ukrainians who were most hurt, most wounded, most devastated by Chernobyl, it wasn't even a reason to shut down the Chernobyl Nuclear Plant. Which means that we should respect the Ukrainian experience and say, why is it that they didn't even shut down the nuclear plant? And why is it that under Russian attack today, they still won't shut down their nuclear plants? And in that moment, you find a little seed of truth that helps you understand, because they believe nuclear is their best chance for survival. In which case, it makes a different kind of conversation about the risks of meltdowns and other kinds of disasters.”

[1:06:38] “That branding issue [of nuclear energy vs nuclear weapons] became an issue because of very successful work to make it an issue. Fusion bombs are real. Most fusion startups are planning to use metric tons of material that are extremely highly secured, because they're used for the biggest bombs in the world. But people don't say, fusion startups, that's like fusion bombs.”

[1:11:01] “This [war] is the breaking point [in Germany]. People whose entire ideological drive, their entire life path has been eliminating their country's nuclear and that's how they rose to politics and it's how they ended up in government now in charge of energy, they are saying, this is kind of scary, we got to rethink nuclear.”

[1:22:43] “Germany had 35-36% coming from nuclear not that long ago. Japan had 35% headed up to 40% from nuclear not that long ago. […] Lithuania [had] by far the highest nuclear percentage of all time [with] 90-95%, but they had to shut it down to be a part of the EU.”

Rating: ⚡⚡⚡

🎙️ Full Episode: Apple | Spotify | Google
🕰️ 1 hr 31 min | 🗓️ 03/08/2022
✅ Time saved: 1 hr 28 min