Home > Europe, Russia > Europe’s Rejection of Nuclear Power a Gift for Russia

Europe’s Rejection of Nuclear Power a Gift for Russia

June 16, 2011


« The German E.ON nuclear power station in southern Germany is set to begin closing down in 2014.

Germany will phase out nuclear power by 2022, German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced June 3. A week before, Switzerland made a similar decision. Italy followed suit on June 13, voting overwhelmingly to reject nuclear power in a national referendum.

These countries will almost certainly have to replace their nuclear power with natural gas, at least in the short term. It is readily available and less polluting than coal or oil. The International Energy Agency recently predicted a “golden age of gas.”

The only problem is where Europe gets most of its gas from—Russia. In 2010, Russia supplied 25 percent of Europe’s gas. Russia already demonstrated the power this gives it, when it cut Ukraine’s gas supply off in the winter of 2006. Very quickly, all of Europe felt the pressure.

Germany is maneuvering to get part of that power. On May 5, Russia and Germany completed an undersea natural gas pipeline. It is due to start pumping in the autumn, and the two nations are building a second one.

The project gives more power to both Russia and Germany. Russia can cut off gas to Eastern Europe while still pumping gas to Western Europe through Germany. This means it can bring Eastern Europe to heel without antagonizing the west.

But it also gives more power to Germany in the west. As we wrote in May 2007:

German strategists realize that once the pipeline is complete, they will hold the same gas supply trump card over downstream countries that Russia holds over many Eastern European countries. …

The world has witnessed how Russia used control of gas supplies to extract political and economic concessions from … Ukraine, Belarus, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Georgia and Armenia. Is it so inconceivable that Germany, Russia’s old pre-World War ii collaborator, would ever seek to do the same?

As Western Europe replaces nuclear power with natural gas, it becomes more dependent on the German-Russian axis.

This axis is growing tighter all the time. On June 21, the United States and the European Union, along with Russia, Ukraine, osce, Chisinau and Tiraspol, will meet to further negotiate the final status of Moldova’s Moscow-aligned breakaway region of Transnistria. Germany is already supporting Russia’s position, and is using these negotiations to help create a joint EU-Russia security committee. This would give the German-led EU an opportunity to work with Russia outside of nato—and therefore without any influence from the U.S.

Germany and Russia are still wary of each other—just as before World War ii. But, just as before World War ii, the two know they can gain a lot by working together. Europe’s shift away from nuclear power aids this alliance. Expect these two to work together more as Germany steps out from under the shadow of the U.S. to become a major power in its own right.

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  1. June 16, 2011 at 8:48 am
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