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Researchers calculate social cost of German nuclear phase-out at $12B/year; 70% from increased mortality risk

In a working paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), a team from UC Berkeley, UC Santa Barbara and Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) calculates that the social cost of the phase out of nuclear electricity production in Germany is approximately $12 billion per year.

More than 70% of this cost comes from the increased mortality risk associated with exposure to the local air pollution emitted when burning fossil fuels; the researchers found that the lost nuclear electricity production due to the phase-out was replaced primarily by coal-fired production and net electricity imports.

The decision to phase-out nuclear production in many countries seems to suggest that the expected costs of nuclear power exceed the benefits. Yet, there remains considerable uncertainty about some of these costs and benefits as there is a glaring lack of empirical studies quantifying the full range of economic and environmental impacts from large-scale nuclear sector closures.

This paper presents a first attempt at filling this important gap by documenting the impact of the phase-out of nuclear power in Germany on multiple market and environmental outcomes. In particular we focus on the shutdown of ten of the seventeen nuclear reactors in Germany that occurred between 2011 and 2017 following the Fukushima accident in Japan. This context affords us several advantages over previous research studying the impacts of nuclear power plants closures.

First, and most importantly, Germany shut down over 8 GW of nuclear production capacity over a few months in 2011, representing close to a 5% reduction in total capacity. By 2017 this had increased to a total of 11 GW of closed nuclear production capacity. This is far larger than the reductions in capacity studied by previous research that focused on the shutdown of a small number of nuclear plants in the United States.

Second, Germany plans to shut down all of its remaining nuclear reactors by 2022. Our study thus provides timely policy-relevant information on the consequences of Germany’s nuclear phase-out moving forward. Third, studying electricity markets in the European context gives us the opportunity to examine how cross-border trade was impacted by a large shock to production in one country.

Finally, Germany’s nuclear phase-out was the direct result of political actions taken following extensive anti-nuclear campaigning in Germany as well as a sudden increase in the perceived risk of nuclear power following the Fukushima accident. Importantly, the phase-out was not caused by changes in the economic or environmental conditions pertaining to nuclear production in Germany. This facilitates a causal interpretation of our analysis based on comparing the conditional averages of economic and environmental outcomes before versus after the nuclear phase-out.

—Jarvis et al.

The researchers used hourly data on power plant operations and a novel machine-learning framework to estimate how plants would have operated differently if the phase-out had not occurred. They estimated the economic and environmental costs of the nuclear phase-out in Germany using the rich plant-level data and ambient pollution monitor data.

The novel machine-learning approach predicted which power plants increased their output in response to the nuclear plant closures.

NBER working papers are circulated for discussion and comment purposes. They have not been peer-reviewed or been subject to the review by the NBER Board of Directors that accompanies official NBER publications.


  • Stephen Jarvis, Olivier Deschenes, Akshaya Jha (2019) “The Private and External Costs of Germany's Nuclear Phase-Out” NBER Working Paper Nº 26598 doi: 10.3386/w26598



I think the choice in Germany to decommission the nuclear plants without newer nuclear replacements is a mistake regardless of all the solar they have. There are newer and much safer nuclear reactor systems now that can actually run on the previous spent fuel, and that are actually even getting approved in the strict USA by the (AEC?). Coal is not a good alternative!

Thomas Pedersen

Use solar to phase out coal, not nuclear. The Germans have it backwards!

'The Greens' have blood on their hands (or black lungs).

I think Michael Schellenberger makes a good summary of the fight against nuclear and the consequences hereof, and why nuclear is the best option to minimize humanity's imprint/footprint on Nature.

'The Greens' have blood on their hands (or black lungs).
Preach it, brother!

FWIW, Bret Kugelmass had an opinion piece in the Friday edition of McPaper... 'scuse me, USA Today.  Oddly enough it isn't in the on-line archives, but it's been widely published elsewhere.

Kugelmass is certainly right about the magnitude of the problem and only feasible solution, but crucial details are lacking.  Can anyone work out just how much energy it would take to crush 200 cubic kilometers of dunite into 100-micron granules?


Maybe Small Modular Reactors will break the duopoly of nuclear stasis:
mass hysteria and regulatory compliance. Manufacturing of SMRs can be scaled rapidly.

Alternative to crushing dunite:
MIT claims atmospheric CO2 can be extracted at scale for 1 gigajoule/ton using quinones.

Side note:
PPA from the first SMR nukes is about $55/MWH. This will get cheaper.
Wind/Solar PPAs are in the $25-50/MWH range and getting cheaper.
CO2 sucking provides a good alternative to dumping excess.

If MIT is right , it's $8 to suck down a ton of CO2 at $30/MWH.
A trillion tons is maybe 10% of world's $80 trillion annual GDP.
Spread it out over 15 or 20 years, that's a fraction of a percent.


The MIT extraction process is ~40 kJ/mol at 40,000 ppm, ~90 kJ/mol at 6000 ppm (somewhat more than 2 GJ/ton).  It'll be higher at 400 ppm, and then you have to find something to do with what you captured.


Black carbon pollution could be avoided worldwide for a great part with this recently discovered method.


Good write-up at ergosphere.
"....average generation of 65% seems reasonable".

GE claims 63% capacity factor for new 12 MW wind turbines.
Already sold multiple Gigawatts worth. Big step toward making floating platform wind cheap.


63% capacity factor is still 37% too little.


Still, 8 GE Haliades ≈ 1 nuscale SMR
Though SMR has leftover heat to play with.

Still, 8 GE Haliades ≈ 1 nuscale SMR

No they don't.  No wind turbine can replace dispatchable capacity.  Perhaps in applications like production of electrofuels they can equal it on energy on average, but they can't provide energy on demand and the certainty of delivery of energy over time as climate change wreaks its havoc cannot be ensured either.

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