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Germany: The Canary in the Coal Mine

Noah Rettberg

Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Chris Keefer  0:00  

Welcome back to Decouple. Today I'm joined by a returning guest, Noah Rettberg. Noah is a physics laboratory technician and training and a member of the German pronuclear movement called nuclei. Ria. Knows also as I said, before a veteran of the Decouple podcast, go check out our episode from I guess, slightly, slightly better times. But I think a good premonition of what's happening now it was called the grim fairy tale of German electricity. But also, no has recently been on the nuclear barbarians podcast. In two part series. Second part is coming soon on synthetic fuels, which I highly recommend listening to. No one has a very deep understanding of a lot of the basic chemistry and processes involved. I mean, I think I really enjoyed that episode, and I'm looking very much forward to following up on that. So do head over to nuclear barbarians as well. If you're not already, listeners, subscribe, and check out that episode. Noah, welcome back to Decouple it's been a little while your first episode was it was a top five in the charts. Really? It really was. Yeah, no, it was, I think people that had a lot of interest. We were talking just before the closure of conda, as well, as you know, the other two plants whose names I've forgotten in the moment, the hospital for goondas. I mean, you I know that you will never forget those names. No, I will know. It's as a content creator. I've been told it's always good to sort of come up with the title of the content before actually making it and I think I came up with a good title for this episode. You can tell me what you think. But Germany, canary in the coal mine for for the western energy. We might change that a little bit, but just wanted to have you on for a casual conversation about how things are feeling in Germany right now?


Noah Rettberg  1:53  

What's going on? With much not casual?


Chris Keefer  1:57  

Right, right. So wanted to talk about gas, coal and nuclear in short, but first off, yeah. Tell me tell me about, you know, I guess the overall sort of Gestalt or zeitgeist of as a German of this, this present moment of this energy crisis. Take it away, my friend,


Noah Rettberg  2:17  

the overall Zeitgeist and I mean, everybody is now feeling an energy crisis that at this point is essentially a year old. I remember summer last year, when we had, it was a time when we had our safe proceeds demonstrations. And also the time I think that you had Mark Nelson on essentially, warning of the coming energy crisis. I think you call it Winter is coming with Mark Nelson s. Ned Stark. So this energy crisis, essentially now your altered has existed before the war in Ukraine? And I think it is, that was what I told you last time that I think, when was last time here, I thought that Putin would use this energy crisis, because it would give him a good hand invading Ukraine. And he actually did. And that, of course, has worsened the energy crisis in two ways, one way is that now we try to actively use as much as as little Russian energy as possible. Very much immediately after the Ukrainian invasion, Germany tried getting rid of Russian oil and coal, which actually we could quite rapidly. Gas is a different story, because it's hard, hard to transport hard to start. But oil and coal is very much easy to transport. I mean, you can just dump onto a field and move in trucks and ships and rent and trailers and on and on. Well, oil is a little bit more complicated, but it's, it's liquid, very much storable liquid. So it wasn't also the issue. I think, before before the war, we were getting, I think around 40% of our oil from Russia. And now it's down to like 10%, which actually the down to 10% went down really fast. The reason for the remaining 10% is basically because the one refinery that still uses Russian oil is owned by the Russians. That's it, it hasn't really something to do that we physically couldn't. With coal,


Chris Keefer  4:27  

is that translating into a really high prices at the pump? You know, I'm not sure why


Noah Rettberg  4:33  

not higher than in the rest of Europe, and the German government has reduced fuel taxes. So essentially, we went from the highest fuel taxes in Europe to the lowest essentially as low so you would allow us to get but only for three months. And so currently, they're I think, a little bit lower than they are in other European countries. But if you would A few roads net price and you did very much roughly the same. The hour they are also the other countries also did did a similar thing, trying to get as little Russian pipeline oil as possible or Russian oil tankers in their ports. And it doesn't match oil tenders from other nations in the reports. And since coal is just arriving fire ship from Russia, and not immediately to buy a train, but this long distances of a train, it's just not economical. So since the cold was anyway, arriving over ship, it was just a matter of getting other ships. So basically toil, we are told we are not completely free of Russian energy. And with oil, it's a little bit remaining, but it's not really physical issue. It's more legal issue. And with gas, that has not been the case, we have no infrastructure of getting a laundry gas in Germany right now. And we have essentially no domestic production of gas. So what we are. So what we are left with is we want to reduce Russian gas, we need to reduce gas consumption. We partially did that we partially tried to it's to import gas from other European countries around us over the interconnected pipeline network that you will pass because those other countries have only terminals or domestic gas production. So that is what we did. I think gas dependency on Russia was also reduced from an almost 45 to 35%. Where of our desk. I mean, now it's essentially nothing because the North Korean run pipelines is down to maintenance. The other pipelines I think, what is the Ukrainian and the yeah, my pipelines also close to the liver result, because right now we are training, guests storage, we actually not really getting a lot of gas from Russia right now. But over the last month, it was reading down from 45. At the point where the Washington waited an hour, they were at 35 A few weeks ago. This is


Chris Keefer  7:05  

the gas storage and you're aiming I think the EU is aiming for 90% or something by winters.


Noah Rettberg  7:10  

Yes, that would be normal that you because those those gas pipelines have a limited capacity of the asset, you can push through them. And actually, they can put enough gas through. If you look at what we would need on a daily basis in the winter, those pipelines can deliver that. So you would have gas storage that fill up in the summer and empty a little bit in the winter. And even when they are at their most empty in the winter, you would have a little, a little bit of reserve to give you security this was normal for last decades. And last winter, it wasn't they were extremely empty. And right now, I think a few weeks ago, they were at 60%. And now we are growing Donald and since consumption now is larger than what the Russians, the Norwegians and the Dutch people can deliver. So we are going down with our test storage.


Chris Keefer  8:04  

So a couple of questions for you that arise out of this. I mean, in terms of the pain that everyday Germans are feeling and are likely to feel in the near future. There's a lot of damage. And there's it sounds like there's a lot coming but I mean, at this point in time, Germany is a very rich and wealthy country, they can afford to you know, compete globally for new supplies of energy, be that you know, LNG or other sources. But that's very much comes out of the reality that there's you know, thriving, vertically integrated industries in Germany that capture a lot of the value, you have a huge chemicals sector, a huge metal sector, manufacturing sector, those are all of course, dependent on plentiful Russian gas, I remember hearing about glass furnaces that have been on for the last 20 years and are at risk of shutting down and if they closed then everything


Noah Rettberg  8:52  

I know people are working working in such less factories that are very much at risk of of the whole company going belly up if those furnaces have to be shut down because of a shortage.


Chris Keefer  9:04  

So you know, I guess for a while Germany can coast on being a wealthy country and compete at these these high energy prices. But at what point is the start to make, you know, the underbelly of German wealth, less viable, how long can you know, bass go on? In terms of the you know, the chemical industry in Germany I've heard is kind of, you know, at threat and worried about needing to close plants in terms of this cascading effect throughout the German economy. How far away does that feel?


Noah Rettberg  9:32  

months?


Chris Keefer  9:34  

months? Wow.


Noah Rettberg  9:36  

Um, I can't give you concrete numbers on that because I don't have the insider knowledge in that industry. But I can give you a buy but but I know how extremely stressed our supplier is right now. And we are currently using not that much. I mean, it's summer and we're draining The desk storage again. And we shouldn't be absolutely doing that if we can't keep the level steady in the summer, when you don't have that much need for heating. How could we? Even during the winter, I mean, maybe until then there isn't really a lot of left. And it's No, there isn't really a way how I help these companies to at least stay afloat. We have seen problems. Companies that reduce production grew under threat from going bankrupt basically, immediately after the invasion. I mean, it's not really causal to the invasion that, okay, put invades immediately after German during venture companies aren't in trouble. Those are as a result of the energy crisis, which started before the war and is now worsened by it. But we saw early effects already in the spring. And we are seeing them right now. And you're seeing them. I mean, there's also a large aluminium industry in Germany, which has now extreme troubles producing. The same goes for glass and the chemical industry. We see steel plants shutting down, I think it's I think it was per varier a month growth, I read this steel plant in Bavaria, that went belly up. So we are seeing this happening already. And it's summer, so we don't have that much consumption. And not every company has already run out of money. And they honestly they can't really afford those gas prices, and they can't even afford and so what just happened? It's not really what just happened that what happened over the last month, year ahead, baseload electricity prices, so if you would buy baseload for over a year, which is a lot of thermal plants sell their electricity, in which which large industrial sites need to they can't afford to buy volatile, unreliable energy. So they grow the electricity providers and buy their most of the electricity they will buy here ahead. And they are now buying it at, I think 300 300 Yes, 300 euros per megawatt hour. And that's that's ridiculously high. That's that's be, I think, three times of what I think the point see what sell its electricity at its strike price. That was its famously expensive power plant. And if you look at what what electricity usually costs over the last years, we were at the wellhead by baseload prices of between 30 and 70 euros per megawatt hour at those prices. German, no industry can compete, no energy intensive industry, of which we in Germany still have a lot because we don't we haven't seen the degree of deindustrialization that the UK the US, France or Canada have seen we have actually seen very little deindustrialization. What happened in industrialization, what's happened in East Germany, because it's German industry was just bad. Couldn't it could only exist in this context of the Eastern Bloc, then we have seen the industrialization, but not in West Germany, not really. So


there is, for example, the German aluminium company treament, then they make revenue. And they I think, in 2019, they had a revenue of 1.2 billion euros. And with electricity consumption of seven terawatt hours, that looks a lot like we are talking about over a percent of, of German electricity. But it's also an extremely, extremely large company. And it's not that surprising that such a large company producing so much I mean, you would need so much energy, but it's it's a huge portion of our electricity consumption, and a large company. So as I said, 1.2 billion euros if they would buy the seven terawatt hours of electricity at the year ahead, baseload prices in the now we now have, they would pay 2.4 billion euros. So they would pay twice the revenue they had in 2019. For the electricity they had in 2019. So can German industry survive for those prices? No, absolutely can it can only survive if the government can subsidize this. And it probably won't be able to do that in adequately numbers


Chris Keefer  14:46  

over on a long term basis like this. Yeah. I mean, I'm wondering in Germany if if there's a tendency to just blame this purely on the Russian invasion. I mean, we talk a lot on the podcast. Test. You know, I think Meredith Angwin coined this term, you know, at just the right time, and it's certainly worked its way into our communities, vocabulary and rubric. And that is the fatal Trifecta over reliance on Weather-dependent renewables just in time natural gas and imports. And interestingly, in this case of Germany, you know, that reliance on just in time natural gas and imports are both contingent on Russia, the only way it could be worse was if Russia was also the source of, you know, the renewables, the solar panels and wind turbines, if Russia was China, essentially, in that regard. And so certainly, certainly, it looks as you know, as if, you know, Germany has set itself up for real disaster once once this, you know, reliance on Russia came into question, in terms of the national discourse, or people starting to question the energy policy, the energy vendor of the last 10 or 15 years? Or is there an attempt to sort of brush that under the carpet and blame this entirely on the Russian invasion?


Noah Rettberg  16:03  

So people have different ideas from why we have problems not in our rush gas from Russia. One idea would be I mean, that we don't want to buy their gas anymore. And that is the reason why we don't have enough that kinda was the case last month, but isn't now. Now it's the case that they don't deliver enough. And so also, another idea is that, then why don't they deliver deliver enough, then, essentially, to blackmail us to have our storage low to make us vulnerable, to pressure us into lifting the sanctions. And that is very likely that this is the case. But I wouldn't discount the very real possibility that the Russians also can't really deliver what we need this. The Russian industry, mostly just made resources, it doesn't really make machines anymore. Liar did back in the Soviet times. And even in the Soviet times, there was a lot of the Soviet Union was never autarkic. It is important technology from the US and from Germany in the 20s and 30s. Pretty much until the war began naturally. And even after that, it had important technology, especially in the end, when a lot of tech when a lot of Soviet industries were collapsing, or couldn't just keep up with what, what the West was doing. I mean, the Soviets in the in the 80s, when computer technology was really prominent in almost every sector, the Soviet Union had nothing that would really compete with what the Western world had at the time. So that was a sector where they were the bottle of technology they bought, I think it was German technology, in optimization, and in computer technology, which they used to build there at the time largest truck plant they had. So the Soviet Union was not autarkic, but it was certainly more targeted than Russia is. Russia is completely dependent upon technology imports from the rest, but especially Germany. And this is the, the relationship we had with Russia, in a sense was really symbiotic. They gave us energy and we gave them the technology, they needed to keep being a modern civilization, from machine tool to cutting fluid to chemicals, to automation technology, to even the stuff handling the gas in their natural gas and oil facilities. The German company, Linda, which builds a lot of technology, hemp for gas handling and gas infrastructure was largely involved in Russian in the Russian gas infrastructure. Also, I think, Russia, Russia's infrastructure is extremely dependent on its railway networks. And that railway network, I think, is also extremely dependent on on imports of technology from Europe, especially I think, it was green, Swedish, Swedish made bearings. So if you have a Russia doesn't have light in the US where you have a lot of transport cargo in the US, US often transported either by truck or rail, but also a lot of by truck. So do you have redundancy there? In Germany, you have a lot of car roll, and also humans moved over the autobahn. Russia doesn't have comparable highway networks especially because it's so large but also because it couldn't afford one.


A lot of its harbors in the north are have have problems freezing over. So if if rail isn't functioning in rush That's a huge problem. I mean, wait, that's great. But if only you have rail, you run into issues. And Russia is doing that, right now, those those components aren't lasting forever, they will break, especially in this situation where the whole country has a lot of stress from the war, and they can't get enough replacement from the west. And it's very questionable, if they have any trust in that replacement from China would actually make this would deliver the components that they need, or if China can deliver those proponents. So it's a lot of thought about that, that China would be stepping into the huge hole that the sanctions lifted from the rest left. But it's very questionable whether the Chinese can do that, whether they have the right derailleur that their view has the right quality. And it's also a question of whether the Russians actually trust the Chinese deliver the right gear. And deliver enough. The, the Russian Chinese friendship is not as warm as many people in the West stated this,


Chris Keefer  21:15  

right? This is absolutely fascinating, because I guess China's a potential winner here. But Europe's losing massively in terms of the price of energy and the threats of deindustrialization. Where would that industry go or be replaced likely in East Asia, likely China would be a beneficiary. Russia is no, this, I think, has been a lot of talk with the ruble rebounding, that hey, I mean, maybe things aren't so bad for the Russians. Certainly the sanctions aren't biting in some metrics, but I think you're illustrating ways in which they really are biting. From the perspective of maintaining their vital infrastructure. I wouldn't


Noah Rettberg  21:51  

say the root of the ruble course is very much decoupled from the state of the actual Russian economy, especially since the Russians have limited their this the ability of their citizens to buy foreign goods, to transfer their money into foreign currency, and to leave the country. And in this in this context, I wouldn't take the strength of the Russian that on people strange off the Russian currency as a valid proxy for the state of the Russian economy.


Chris Keefer  22:21  

Yeah, yeah, absolutely. So let's talk a little bit about Germany's plans to try and substitute for, for Russian gas, some of the alternative strategies. You know, I've got a story here from your actief, Germany secures for floating LNG terminals in mad rush to replace Kremlin gas. You know, it's interesting that all stops, will be pulled to build substitute LNG technology. But of course, the path dependency of the closure of German nuclear plants seems to be pretty locked in, we're gonna we're going to talk about the nuclear side a little bit more. But for now, let's let's talk about some of the German plans to try and maintain the status quo and to some degree in terms of, you know, an approach that is very dependent on natural gas. It's interesting, again, to reference Meredith Angwin. You know, one of the things she talks about is, you know, when your electricity system becomes so dependent on just in time natural gas delivery, there's a conflict, obviously, between your electricity grid and heating priorities. Obviously, that's complicated because Germany is so industrialized still, there's the competition with industry as well. In any case, the big reliance on natural gas, what are some of the potential substitutes countries, and particularly infrastructure that Germany requires in order to get its natural gas from other sources?


Noah Rettberg  23:43  

So the countries that could sell us natural gas are mostly Middle Eastern countries like Qatar, the US and Australia. So the US and Australia I would consider very friendly to us. So this wouldn't put us in a lot of hot water. There are issues with the US because the Americans, especially the current government, wasn't wasn't pleased. Off the idea of exporting a lot of natural gas. They they saw this as going against their climate pledges, and they have a lot they have a large environmentally minded base in their party. So the US probably, so yes, the US has a lot of gas infrastructure, and it's poured a lot of gas. But certainly it probably didn't build out enough gas infrastructure in order to adequately supply what we need. It also has tightened pollution restrictions on those infrastructure, which took a lot of those plants that liquefied natural gas in order to export it. They have been taken offline or will be taken offline for those upgrades that they are getting a large plant and Texas has burned down. So that is offline. And we saw immediate effects of that with LNG prices in the globe shooting up and only prices. And there's not only that surprises, and us going down because the, this is also an effect. The more rebuy American gas, the higher the price for gas will be in the US. Because for the companies that rule for the gas extracted, the more they can export it, the more money they tend made. So if the US exports more gas, gas prices will rise in the US. So the American populace, and by extension, the president in this party, because they want to win the midterms, a question? Probably they won't, but they haven't they haven't they have a incentive not to export as much as we need. I actually don't know how it is in Australia, I couldn't tell you that in Qatar is a completely different story they would like to export the test was, especially on long term contracts. That's what they are really eyeing for, is because yes, they can made a lot of money now. But especially in a situation where vision is high. It's stretchable, if if a lot of money now is inside Trump's having a steady stream of money for the next 20 years. So what they really want to want to ask to commit to is a long term supply contract over 20 years. And the ruling coalition, which is largely comprised of the Green Party doesn't want to do that. Once gas from Qatar, it even sense it's, it's it's even sends our green vice chancellor to tart bow down in front of the Emir. But it doesn't want to commit to a 20 year gas project. So so that's that's, that's a touchy subject there.


Chris Keefer  27:05  

In terms of the domestic capacity to receive that gas. Do you have any idea about the viability of these floating LNG platforms that are, you know, being constructed, apparently, in record times to hopefully be online? I think by February,


Noah Rettberg  27:20  

I noticed I know of one which it's 75 terawatt hours regasification facility, they are currently building and they are hoping to getting online by the end of this year, whether they can do that is questionable. But it's safe to say that they will probably get maybe that's maybe they will get some but they definitely won't get enough. We densification plans built and operational before the end of the winter that I can tell you for sure those those re justification plans don't have the capacity that those large pipelines have.


Chris Keefer  28:03  

Right. I mean, obviously, there's implications as well with I guess, the spot LNG price, and just the overall price of gas rising worldwide, with Germany competing with much poorer countries for supply with the rolling impacts on industries that rely on natural gas as a feedstock. I mean, and I think there's there's an ethical component here where yes, Germany will be able to avoid some pain, but it's going to come at the expense of poor countries who just won't be able to afford the available gas.


Noah Rettberg  28:33  

Pretty much. It's it's not just whether the data is available, it was requested in tender gas be shipped. And so, so this is a huge concern. It's also a concern that we now have with coal trust. Now the government is trying to get as much coal but not just German. So often tournaments, we are activating the Midwest, coal power station. So they want to get a lot of coal. And it's also the question, do we even have the shipping capacity to handle all that coal? Because for the last decade, essentially, we tried to have less coal. So it's the same with with with oil, we were always saying, Okay, we want to reduce oil, we want to be too strong. So essentially, people didn't really invest in new distillation for refineries for oil, or coal handling infrastructure. So what we had deteriorated new ones then really came along. So that's also there are infrastructural concern regarding will there be enough ships to carry all that? coal and gas?


Chris Keefer  29:41  

I mean, you've described this very symbiotic relationship between Germany and Russia in terms of


Noah Rettberg  29:48  

state it would have been beautiful. Right, right. But it means we delude ourselves into thinking that the Russian have, or especially the Russian government has even remotely ruined Tensions. It never did. It was probably to anyone that that was willing to except to see the grim reality as it is. It was obvious essentially just two decades ago, that the Russian state is not heading in a well direction, and won't be a friendly and reliable partner, like the other Eastern Bloc. Countries became.


Chris Keefer  30:26  

I mean, I guess this raises the question about whether there's any possibility of Germany splitting from the Western alliance I think people were impressed with, and maybe Russia didn't anticipate the degree of of Western cooperation on sanctions, for instance, I know, I'm asking you to predict the future, which is, you know, always a difficult thing to do. But, you know, I remember seeing German trade unions, for instance, coming together and saying, you know, we shouldn't be boycotting Russian fossil fuels, it's going to impact a lot of workers a lot of jobs. I mean, is there an element within Germany that is going to look for an easy way out here? And definitely, they


Noah Rettberg  31:07  

are? Probably for two months already. There's a lot of licensor suffering pressure, right now, in Germany. I mean, not just in Germany everywhere else also. But


Chris Keefer  31:25  

like, well, Germany bend the knee in this in this kind of battle of wills between between Putin and, you know, freezing in the winter. Do you think there's any, any possibility of that, or, again, I carry on with, with what you're saying, you know, is there is there kind of a fifth column? You know, within Germany, that's,


Noah Rettberg  31:41  

oh, there's definitely a fifth column. I mean, essentially, the entire German intelligentsia had has large synthesis for Russia, there is a lot of Russia, Philly, in Germany, especially into the cultural creators to the media creators, which is, which is the main reason, right, German politics was for last two decades, so extremely blind, towards the danger, that it's coming from Russia. And they since day one, you see, the cultural elites in Germany, trying to push the government into not supporting Ukraine into into the enormous, deluded sense of pacifism that they have, and need to dream. It's dream, degrees of what about the smallest defects that the Ukrainian state has, is holed up as almost equally to the crimes against humanity that the Russians are committing? In Ukraine? So yes, there it is such a fifth column. And it did for decades. So this is completely unrelated. From the energy issue, that yes, there is this fifth column, in Germany, especially into in the it's, it sounds stupid, but it pretty much is the cultural elites, the academia of journalists, of artists, of writers, poets, singers. So yes, there is there is such a, such a fifth column. If you would, however, talk to the everyday German, they, they have been certainly influenced by this. But most can surely see that what Russia is doing in Ukraine is just terrible. But what they are also seeing is that they are suffering from it. And if their suffering becomes enough, they will certainly have no issues, buying Russian products and lifting been for buying Russian gas and energy and lifting the sanctions. And this is also a thing if we were to decide to say okay, we tricked this staff, we don't want to boycott Russian energy in the slightest. We'll revise everything that we have. If we would do that. It's still the question first can and second want the Russians or to put it better Putin and his cronies deliver the energy? One reason is he needs he needs the supplier spec. So until he doesn't get this, he will probably not be very, very kind to us. And another reason is that it could just be that until that point, Russia deteriorates so fast, that they can't deliver so much energy anymore. So the Russians might end up at the point where they have to decide okay, which channel We try to which country? Will we sell energy. And they will certainly sell Germany energy if they have any. Cause, if they could get one country to lift the sanctions, they will choose Germany, we're probably the most important exporter of technology to Russia, for the Russians. So and also they have have they have the tight they have to direct lines to us, through the Nord Stream pipelines, that even if if like, the Polish Navy, what blockade the Baltic Sea, or the Ukrainians and polar shut down the other pipelines, we could get energy through those gas pipelines. So this is certainly the case that if the Russians have gas, not just in Russia, but also have the capability to get the gas to the to the robot end in Russia, where the gas enters the Northwind pipelines, if they didn't get there, and they have gas, they would we would be probably the first one they would sell it to if we would lift our sanctions. And then there is a question, would Germany lift or sanctions saloon looking at the current government? No, they are definitely not in the mood to lift those sanctions. But they are also definitely not in the mood to lose their careers and be hated by everyone. So if the pressure from I don't know the street, usually, the people


in Germany are not that not that towards applying a lot of pressure on the street, a few more especially violent process. Protests in Germany only ever come from the extreme right and extreme left, which are not that politically potent groups in Germany. So I could not envision Sri Lanka style scenario as protests, starving protesters stormed government buildings, so that will probably not happen. But there could very much be just very normal protests of people that can't heat their homes can't afford gas, for their cars, that can't afford the ever rising prices, and the supermarket for food, the transfer to buy your clothes that have lost their job, because the companies in which they worked, collapsed or are under under pressure of collapsing. So if if the pressure from quotation marks the street people rise enough, then it could very much be that the German government would submit to the Russians, or collapse on its own be quickly replaced by anyone that would do that. But also another thing that you have to have to know about German politics. Essentially, everyone doesn't want to see the far right party draining any power. So in the far right party is very much pro Russia, and pro fossil fuels. So they could gain significantly off from this crisis. If the crisis worsens. Germans are quite reluctant to vote for the third party, they did their fair share of roughly 10% of the population. But the other 90% don't seem to like them very much, except in East Germany, in some regions where they are very popular. But in in general, really, most Germans don't like them and will be reluctant to vote for them. It's probably in other European countries, we see more people are more willing to vote for a far right party in Britain, France, Netherlands, Hungary or Austria, Poland. So that is the case but in Germany, they are they are there we see real reluctance to vote for left wing or right wing extremist parties. Also, we have to know the left wing extremist parties the far left party the linter which by the way, is a direct its ancestors ruling party of East Germany. Keep that in mind. At least the East German side of it came out of the ruling party of East Germany, the West German side of the splinter group from the main sort dem party. So the far left and the far right party approach washer, they will ever prove they will always pro washer and they are for lifting sanctions. The far left party is in shambles they will probably not be able to gain a lot of this, but the far right party might if if if it comes to that. So what probably all parties in Germany will try to avoid is this party gaining any popularity so This could end that if they feel the government isn't stable, we can probably not keep it together, we would lose any re election that can that will come up to the far left party, the industry are dying, industry is dying, people are freezing, they will very likely I would give a huge likelihood they will submit to the Russians.


Chris Keefer  40:27  

Wow. You know, I'm coming to you out of Canada here. And you know, we've shown some flexibility with with our sanctions. We have a I think a critical piece of infrastructure, a turbine that's required by the Nord Stream, one pipeline, which was sent to Symons affiliate here in Canada to be maintained, you know, you've talked a lot about Russia's dependence on, you know, Western technology to KEEP IT infrastructure running. This is a nice example of that. And, you know, I would imagine,


Noah Rettberg  40:58  

it's all Western technology, it's even, it's even countries like Turkey, it's not just that, oh, it's just Germany, and maybe the US, it's essentially, the entirety of Europe, North America, or Japan, when those countries don't exports to China, to Russia, they have a problem.


Chris Keefer  41:13  

And so, you know, Canada under I think a lot of diplomatic pressure from Germany has, you know, been flexible, shall we say, to be charitable, with its sanctions to release this vital piece of equipment, you know, with the hope that this will enable Europe to secure the gas that needs not to not to freeze this winter. So, you know, we're already seeing perhaps some buckling of that iron will, of the West to sanction Russia severely for its actions in Ukraine, when it comes to these geopolitical concerns. And I think we see that, you know, quite often that's energy, Trump's climate. And, you know, these pragmatic decisions will get made. But that was a very interesting analysis of, you know, the German political spectrum and what's likely to occur. I've been, you know, predicting a right wing populist backlash for some time in Europe, which would be pretty terrible for for climates, obviously. But interesting to hear about how that may play out more specifically in Germany. You know, we would be remiss to not be talking with a nuclear expert from Germany about the situation. Well, I think you've earned that, that title. You're certainly quite passionate about the topic. So I wanted to touch briefly on there we are on the nuclear closures, how that's proceeding. But actually, first, I just wanted to briefly talk about, you know, this coal substitution for gas that we're seeing. You've mentioned it a little bit in terms of the import capacity, but just briefly, Germany is famous for its brown coal for its lignite coal. Are we seeing a big uptick in that regard? I'm curious, you know, it seems like when a coal plant is brought offline in Germany, I think it's carefully mothballed. It seems like your capacity to bring old coal plants back online seems to be robust. Whereas there's a real reluctance to reconsider the phase that of the remaining three or try and bring the other three plants that were closed at the end of last year back online. So maybe we can tie that question together. What's going on with lignite and, and let's Let's chat a little bit about the nuclear closures.


Noah Rettberg  43:29  

So, lignite is 20%, or last year? It depends. It fluctuated over the years. Last year, it was 20% 2020. It was a little bit below that. 2019 It was also roughly 20% German electricity. So lignite runs in middle last, I don't know what would be the the right English term. It's essentially it's the trend of baseload. But it also does as it does, Basil would essentially mean we all just run at a steady power. But what it essentially does, it's mostly running at high power levels, but it's also throttling a bit because it needs to make way for renewables and it needs to come up a little bit for for when the renewables have done produce it. So, yes, lignite, lignite power plants are they generally bad power plants have good load for following capabilities, but they are mostly running at high capacity factors. The bituminous coal, hot coal power plants, they all import coal from outside of Germany, they have quite they have a lot of they have capacity factors that are a lot lower, especially because sometimes they are in when they are really high demand and not enough wind or solar. They are brought back in emergency situations this reserve power plants and A lot also gas power plants are also done sometimes. And so that is how we use the coal power plants in Germany. Last year we had 100. All of our 490 terawatt hours of electricity was late night. And I think 50 terawatt hours was bituminous coal. 50 terawatt hours was gas 66 terawatt hours was nuclear the rest was Larry's renewables. And you will also have to keep in mind that there are a lot of gas power plants outside of the German grid that made electricity for various industrial sites, which to my knowledge, amount to 40 terawatt hours. So in addition to this 50 terawatt hours of gas on the public grid, there was also 40 terawatt hours that was privately produced and privately consumed. Keep that in mind. It's not just the 50 terawatt hours on the grid that have to be replaced when we talk about gas. So as I said, those retired power plants, they are mostly they are not, there is not a lot of spare capacity that can be come on the tank come online without reactivating old plants, which have been mothballed and have been in reserve. When we've been taught about that those power plants are in reserve. That doesn't mean that they come that bad quite easily, especially those which have been longer in this reserve function. They have seen not that much maintenance over the last years. So it's not that clear how well those plants can be brought back, especially since many of the people that work there moved into other fields onto other power plants. So I'm I'm friends with someone who works at the Austrian Maillard power station, which is a bituminous coal plant there. They have Emmons coal and gas plant one, one unit coal, two units, gas, and coal unit was closed very recently, he worked there, then he transferred to the gas units. And now the troll unit is brought back. And I've heard a lot of the issues that they have between that plant back, it's very much possible, but they are looking for people to do it right now. And of course they can find it. But it's also a question Can they find it in the right amount of time. In Austria, it's just this one coal power plant. And in Germany, we will talk about dozens of coal power plants that would need to come back. And I have doubt that we can win all of those power plants. But we could theoretically bring back up to 40 data, watts of power plants that have been in various degrees have been mothballed and decaying. Whether we can do that I'm highly doubtful. Historically, over the last years, we didn't really ever see going more than 2627 rewards of our $40.40 reward call fleet been online. Even in situations in the past where the caller was definitely very much needed on the red. It didn't go over that. So


can they bring light so that would say that probably around 30 of the rewards of the certainty rewards of those or at least 10 can't just go online and that easily. So it so the question is, how likely is it that we can we can bring those into an operational state until the winter is coming. And when we talk about Austria, a country of 8 million people that has issues, we commissioning 300 megawatt plant, then Germany 10 times the population, we commission in 30 times the plants in capacity would probably a larger issue. So I don't see that I don't see that all of those 40 litre Watts 10 be available in the winter, I would be expecting more like 30 or 33 in that region to be really operated in a good operational state and reliable operational state by winter.


Chris Keefer  49:24  

Well, you know, it's interesting in Ontario, where we had this nuclear powered coal phase out, we actually demolished you know, the old call facilities. I mean, they may have been end of life anyway. Nanticoke now,


Noah Rettberg  49:34  

I've been listening to that episode. Yeah,


Chris Keefer  49:37  

famous pictures of the smokestacks being demolished coming down. But I guess it's my understanding that hasn't occurred as much in Germany with these retired plants that haven't been demolished. They've been been mothballed. Is that correct?


Noah Rettberg  49:50  

Mostly, we haven't seen that many been really destroyed.


Chris Keefer  49:53  

How does that compare with with the nuclear plants that had been closed? I mean, I've seen footage of a cooling tower Coming down, I think Phillipsburg, right. Is there more of a rush to, you know, erase the legacy of nuclear, they start,


Noah Rettberg  50:07  

they start the company, they start taking the plant apart a few months after commissioning. With the three plants that have been closed last year, they are not that fast because for owned and bought off, they truly don't have the license to decommission. And to deconstruct the plant in Buda eminent, they have the license and they have already started deconstructing that plant. There has been a study by the truth, which is not too expensive. It's it's an institution that that checks, several, or a lot of types of machines that you can have did proof proofs, everything from cars to power plants, if you if your car isn't certified by the truth in Germany, you are not allowed to drive it on the road. So that's what the truth does, it proves a proof the state of all of various kinds of machinery. So the government of the very of the Bavarian State has been very supportive of the idea of extending the lifetime of the ISA to nuclear power plant, which is certainly true and is still running. And also I'm the possibility of taking the route aiming and see plant bait online, which is the only one which where they started deconstruction. And I think it was a month ago that the study that the tooth did came out. And to the truth was what what essentially said that there are no real issues, continuing the operation of EDA tool. And that remanent C is still in a state where it will be brought back. But with in the past they have been really fast. With decommissioning. For example and Phillipsburg, we see the flushing of the primary circuits, just months after the plant has been closed. And in the summer of 2020, we saw the cooling towers of Philips port being detonated just six months after the plant is because


Chris Keefer  52:18  

is this because nuclear falls under the same ministry, as the environment ministry is the Ministry of Environment and nuclear safety. It's a very bizarre conglomeration of files in one, one ministry.


Noah Rettberg  52:33  

So the way that decommissioning is done in Germany, it's it's, it's done very, very fast. For example, have you seen in red written this thing where you close off the reactor for 100 years, wait until most of the activation in the reactor in the building has decayed where you can safely just decommission it normally, that isn't Dundrum. So so we try to decommission the reactors as fast as possible. Honestly, try them in the most expensive way possible. Because every every component has to be stored in this little product container. So the reactor or the steam generators can't be taken out whole and stored whole. They have to be in situ, thought into little bits and then put into those storage containers, which makes it expensive. And is pretty much started process started with the afterwards. So so the timetable of decommissioning, we're talking about this, roughly two decades, of which most of the work is already done the first decade. So yes, they are. It's the it's mandated that they move this this quickly.


Chris Keefer  53:54  

And is that is that for ideas? I mean, it's as you said, it's uneconomic, it doesn't make a ton of sense. You let the hot stuff decay quite quickly, as I guess the British are doing it. This is for ideological political reasons. I guess that this is sped up in this way.


Noah Rettberg  54:07  

Yeah, kinda. I think one could very much suspect. They, they don't want to have those plants hanging around so that anyone could get the idea of taking them back online. Like you did in Canada, if you will tote bags, essentially, offline, we had to split onto the grid. And when we had a gas crisis in Europe and 2007 2008, Bucha poderia tried to try to consider taken back online nuclear power station, which had been neglected for essentially two decades and had been a very bad state at that point. And that was very much worried. But the thing is that they were really secure that Tomasi, it was a done deal. It wasn't really for for the last two decades that this was really threatened, that someone would talk about bringing back RAM distributions implausible. So I wouldn't, I wouldn't account this, to them having fears that someone would never bring bed close nuclear power station. It's essentially the anti nuclear movement that sprang up in the 70s in Germany has did something which also is a green movement in Germany, it's tried to reduce the incidence. And so the people that were part of the counterculture, at some point realized that if they are always part of counterculture, they will never really get a chance to realize their ideals. So what they did is becoming the mainstream the establishment, not just the mainstream establishment, becoming the establishment, getting their people into the nuclear regulators into the environmental ministry, into the power companies into the utilities, and thus, being able to dictate which way the nuclear power sector had to operate. And it was purposefully designed to be the most detrimental to its tripping economical, in 1990, the then, Mr. President of one of the German states, they had shoulder, which then had the first, I think the first red green coalition. He was essentially comparable to governor of a state and the coalition agreement of the green and the Stockton party, but then purposefully said that they will oppose any, any ways of solving the problem of nuclear waste. Before there isn't a clear timetable for a nuclear exit in Germany. So this was their demand from the very first time, we will try to do our very best to prohibit any safe rate of disposal of nuclear waste being done until the German government isn't really committed to to ending the use of nuclear energy in Germany. And this is important because the state of NIDA darts no sets in in Germany was the state where the DGR was supposed to be in Germany.


Chris Keefer  57:24  

Right. So just briefly, I guess in closing, what's what's the state of the discourse on maintaining the remaining three reactors, there's a tweet that's gone a little bit viral, I think it's Professor rams Dorf. Stating, stating that the last three reactors will make a difference anyway, that the fuel is sourced from Russia. You know, essentially that they won't make a difference in time. Can you? Can you talk about the the discourse? Maybe let's focus on that tweet and dispel some of the the inaccuracies there.


Noah Rettberg  57:57  

Yeah, nothing of what that you'd say this, right. It's simple, etc. Many. Russia has only very recently dainty capability of manufacturing the fuel elements that Western type reactors need. And they never really sought that to any any client. So no, there was never any fuel built by the Russians using a German reactor. So that is one, then there was a question, Was there ever any fuel enriched by the Russians in German reactors? And yes, that has been the case. In the past, before Germany has sufficient enrichment capabilities, there is far more enrichment capabilities in Germany, and those capabilities will remain because the enrichment plant in Germany doesn't have a set closure date. So now we can enrich our own fuel elements. And we can also build our own fuel elements. There are only ever two companies that build the special type of fuel elements that German reactors need. That is Westinghouse in Sweden, and UNEF advanced nuclear fuel subsidiary of framatome, which has, which has its factory, also here in Germany. So the fuel elements that we would would use in our reactors would be built either in Sweden, or in Germany, and then Richmond would be very likely done in Germany, the rhenium would be most likely sourced from Canada, also, possibly, possibly from Kazakhstan. I think there are some that come from from Africa. But if for example, we could and to my knowledge, we very much can if we would make new fuel elements source at from Canadian uranium. So there isn't really, there isn't really any any involvement that the Russians need to have in those fuel elements or did in the in the past time? This is absolutely ridiculous. This is Lie somewhat based in reality, in this in the way that the Eastern European we are reactors, the Soviet designed were to use fuel elements that until recently, could only ever be bought from the Russians. But even that isn't the case anymore. The Swedish the Finnish and Swedish, the Finnish the charts, slow verts. And what is the the Hungarians and the Ukrainians and the Bulgarians, they use j use those Russian fuel elements we never did. And now they are going to Westinghouse to Sweden to get their fuel elements from there the process that Ukraine started right after the premier invasion, and test now completed, and also the other Eastern European nuclear power plant owners also doing this, this is utter lie, we don't need Russia for our fuel. In Germany, we never did need Russia. And now, even in the countries that use Russian reactor technology, they will never again use Russian fuel. So this is an utter lie. Also, there is still a little bit of fuel left to make to make a significant impact in the winter, which is a completely different thing that we could talk to you there's one thing is reactivating, owned and bought off which we can, right now they are in a state that probably in two to three months, they can be brought back online, and continuing the operation of the three reactors that are currently online into the spring. So we could have five of those time reactors. Seven on not almost seven data watts, electricity production, it will in size to the country of Austria, could be online during this winter. And this will make a damn significance. Because right now, we probably might not even have enough assured capacity to meet our baseload demands, not to mention even our not to mention even our average demand or peak demand. So those reactors not just electricity production, but just the sheer amount of gigawatts that we can say that we can securely have on our grid, those up to 72 Watts, would make a huge difference.


Chris Keefer  1:02:29  

And what's what's the state of the politics around this? Is there any chance for the remaining three to run at lower power, as you're saying until spring? What's What's the state of the politics, I think the Christian Democrats and the Greens recently said this is this is not on the table.


Noah Rettberg  1:02:47  

The Christian Democratic Union, which is the Conservative Party in Germany, they recently started to vote in the Bundestag, in which they said we want to operate those plants in the winter. And it was denied the coalition voted against it, and it didn't get the majority. So for now, but what is now few reads, maybe this is off the table again. But actually, the Christian downunder conservatives didn't let that sit on them, they are speeding up again, that they want to they want to keep those plans for now. And also the Liberal Party has been doing this for for last weeks. For some reason, probably to keep the coalition some some coalition agreement that they have with the Social Democrats and greens in which they are the ruling coalition right now. Then all liberal members of parliament voted against this. And so it's so that's that's why it didn't happen, which I think they will regret. They are kind of fine with this, this isn't that far enough or, or something? Yes, we are for nuclear, but they find some reason, right, despite them saying that they are for nuclear or like not for nuclear, but for a slightly delayed or too much lead right now. But they are finding reasons why they they say that this vote was right. But the reality is this cost time. Right now we are at a point that if the government says now Okay, enough is enough, we will continue to operate for a short time. I'm gonna have to be probably up and running in late October early November. So right at the time when winter begins, if we want those plants online when winter begins, we need to give the order now. If we wait, they still can be brought back online in round two to three months. But if we delay, the date by which we ordered them Greenberger online, will also delay delay the date by which they can be bent back online into the winter when we actually need them. So damage is being done by waiting. And what the Liberal Party is now doing. It's dangerous, because we're losing time.


Chris Keefer  1:05:24  

I guess it's interesting. I mean, this just demonstrates such a strong anti nuclear commitment on behalf of the establishment that even in the midst of such dire energy crisis, even with the risk of collapse of much of the industrial sector, they're still so adamant even just about delaying the closure by what would amount to probably four months, five months, just as extraordinary, and I think really speaks to the strength of the anti nuclear movement. And as you're saying, that transition from counterculture to the establishment, it's extraordinary, and I guess,


Noah Rettberg  1:05:57  

really ingrained establishment, but they are losing grip on on the power that they have, fast, they have already lost support from the people. The people think nuclear started did commissioned a survey around one year ago, because there wasn't better than there wasn't really a lot of us reliable data, how Germans thought about nuclear energy. We knew all surveys, which said all Germans don't support nuclear energy. And we kind of felt the tide seems to be a little bit shifting back then in 2021. So we thought, okay, we need better data. So we commissioned start, we have been accused by the Anti-nuclear people to do that to say, oh, Germans are pronuclear into into cheat or something. But that was never the intent, we actually didn't know, we wanted to get real insight into how German sent so we were one of the first commission sets of study. And we found that even the summer of 2020 21, that the tides had changed a bit that it wasn't that only 20% of Germans support nuclear energy, rollback done already at 40. And over the time, over the last year, there was 40%, grew to now 60%. We've seen also interesting demographic shifts, because back then the summer, it was mostly young people that were for nuclear energy. Now it's more older people, which is interesting. The young people didn't change their mind that much or nuclear energy, it mostly the older people, but not really the green tea. We also saw it through parties back when only like that now, I think in every party affiliation of voters, we see that the majority is for the continued operation only in the greens, they are not in the Social Democratic Party in the far left party of voters, there is a small majority for new to and the far right. Conservative and Liberal Party, there is a giant majority of far over 80% of their voters, which are support supportive of nuclear energy in general, not just one tea, wanted to delay some.


Chris Keefer  1:08:13  

And obviously, obviously, you know, public opinion is important to politicians, but I would think, you know, the, if the labor movement, you know, who are, who are, I guess flirting with this idea of sort of softening sanctions against Russia, or some of the big industrialists remember hearing the head of Volkswagens, you know, advocating that we should stop the phase out or at least delay it? I mean, one would think,


Noah Rettberg  1:08:35  

Oh, yes, he has been saying that for I think, almost over a year. Now. It's been also saying that before this energy crisis was really bad.


Chris Keefer  1:08:42  

Yeah. It's interesting. I mean, this is a moving story. I'm very grateful Noah to have had you on, you've clarified a lot of things for me, both from a technical, cultural, and also just stay on the ground feel. So I look forward to touching bases with you in you know, several months time seeing how the story is developing. But thank you very much for for making the time. I think you've very much deserved the Affer mentioned title of nuclear expert. And we're very grateful to have you back on Decouple.


Noah Rettberg  1:09:14  

Thanks. Thank you for having me on. It was it was it was a pleasure and it was an honor.



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