The People’s Republic of China turns to Germany for nuclear expertise as the EU tightens nuclear regulations and the German government votes for a nuclear phase-out by the year 2022.
China has been following the German debate to get out of nuclear energy with great interest, especially since the announcement made by German Environment Secretary Norbert Röttgens that Germany is planning to be nuclear energy-free by 2022. Dr. Liu Changxin, Vice General Secretary of the advocacy group China Nuclear Society (CNS), told Deutsche Welle he believes the decision taken by the German government was not only hasty, but politically motivated as well. He says the decision "has more to do with votes than with the real advantages and disadvantages of nuclear energy."
China’s government is concentrating on the advantages of nuclear energy and is going ahead with the expansion of its nuclear capacities. According to Chinese figures, the People’s Republic will soon be investing around nine billion euros annually in atomic energy. Currently the country has 13 reactors and is planning 28 new ones. Not even the disaster at Fukushima can deter Beijing from its course. For one, because such natural disasters "don’t happen in China," and secondly, because safety at China’s nuclear power plants is "constantly inspected" and updated, says Liu.
China wants to increase production from its current 10.8 gigawatts to 40 gigawatts in 2015. By the year 2020, China hopes to be producing 80 gigawatts of nuclear energy. Liu says China is dependent on nuclear energy because of its large population. When comparing Germany and China, he says it is not only population size that matters, but the amount of energy consumed and China consumes far more energy than Germany. Liu says, aside from that, Germany will continue to use nuclear energy after 2022, "the only difference is that all of it will be imported from its neighbors that generate nuclear power."
As Germany is due to be taken off the nuclear grid, Xu Yuming, Deputy General Secretary of the China Nuclear Energy Association (CNEA), wants to invite German nuclear experts to work in China. He believes German nuclear power plants are world class. Though German nuclear experts and technicians do have a good reputation, they might soon be jobless in their own country. Fei Liangyong, a Chinese nuclear physisist living in Nürnberg, Germany, believes Xu’s proposition will be good for everyone. He says, "if Germany is going to get out of nuclear energy and China is doing just the opposite, then German nuclear physicists should go to China and work there. It is a win-win situation."
Dr. Andreas Battenberg, press officer at Munich’s Technical University (MTU), says the job offers coming from China are "kind". But he is not yet doubtful about the job market for nuclear physicists. He says carreer opportunities for MTU graduates of nuclear physics are excellent and German experts in the field are in high demand. Nuclear power plants make up only a small part of the field of nuclear technology.
Sven Lehmann, head of North Rhein-Westfalia’s Green Party, not only welcomes the decision to phase out of nuclear energy, but is pushing to speed up the process. At the same time, he does not believe that all jobs will be lost along with the nuclear power plants as the field of renewable energy sources is thriving in Germany. He says in his state alone 10,000 jobs have been created in the renewables sector in the past few years. "That means there is high demand - renewables are the future of energy production." Lehmann points out that engineers will continue to be in high demand but that the market will gradually adjust, as jobs "move away from energy intensive sectors like coal and atomic energy towards other forms of renewable energy."
While Lehmann regrets that other countries like China, France and Poland are expanding in the field of nuclear energy, he also sees opportunities for Germany, who is seeking to become the world’s leading export country for renewable and energy saving technologies. "We believe that we will be 100 percent dependent on renewable energy sources. Other countries will see that and want to buy our products," says Lehmann.
For the time being, a mass migration of German nuclear physicist to China seems unlikely. But the offer still holds, says Liu. "There is already an active exchange of expertise and technology. China welcomes specialists from Germany and other countries." In other words, when or if German experts have to start looking beyond German borders for work, China’s doors will always be open.