The Kremlin, ‘Kernenergie’, and the Invasion of Kyiv
This is a revisit of Gazprom, Eastern Europe and the Energy Security Crisis research paper written in November 2020 analysing the political uncertainty and warning of a potential security crisis, seen today in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, due to the progression of Nord Stream Pipeline 2 and the involvement of Russian state-owned company, Gazprom.
An analysis of German environmental policy and the historical underpinnings that made them dependent on Russian fossil fuels. Contrary to France’s quest for energy independence via nuclear energy and support for its research and development.
On 8 March, the European Commission outlined its proposed action plan to make Europe independent from Russian fossil fuels. REPowerEU aims to reduce the demand for Russian imports and calls for a swift energy transition towards other energy sources and energy efficiency.
As I watch the events unfold before the television and behind the blue light of the phone screen, I cannot help but think about my insight piece, Gazprom, Eastern Europe and the Energy Security Crisis written in November 2020 (Limon, 2020). In this piece, I voiced my concern regarding the growing uncertainty of the effects of Russian influence on European Union Member States due to the construction of the Nord Stream II pipeline, and Gazprom’s looming influence in the mainstream media. Germany’s decision to decommission nuclear energy reactors has left them dependent on natural gas and oil imports from Russia. The fall of the Berlin wall, and the reunification of Western and Eastern Germany, led to necessary adjustments in the energy mix to save the automobile industry and propel the restructuring and consolidation of energy consumption structures in the residential sector (Anatolitis & Auer, 2014). In light of Germany’s removal of ‘Kernenergie’, nuclear energy, and their development of ‘Energiewende’, energy transition, towards renewable energy alternatives, I will revisit and expand upon the points I made in my initial article on the EU’s energy security crisis (Carbon Brief, 2016). The Kremlin’s decision to invade Ukraine has delayed the timing of sanctions against Russia due to the effects this would have on Germany’s source of energy and the economic implications on its citizens. I also provide an insight into France’s pursuit of energy independence following the first oil and natural gas crisis in the 1970s (SFEN, 2021). As the leader in nuclear energy worldwide, they have continuously supported the research and development of nuclear-related research programmes. The question poses itself, what can Europe do now to relinquish itself from Russian fossil fuels and ensure affordable, secure and sustainable energy?
Soviet Bygones, Olaf Scholz and Sanctions
The growing public negative sentiment by anti-nuclear movements and from the accidents at Three Mile Island in 1979 and Chernobyl in 1986 affected the German people’s energy choices. The reunification of Germany initiated the redistribution of the energy market into the already existing Western German counterparts (Planete Energies, 2015). Former Eastern Germans held negative views and mistrust towards Soviet environmental policy and so it was no surprise when the government decided to prioritise the development of renewable energy sources. By 1998, the German Social Democratic and Green Party committed to phasing out nuclear energy within a 5-year period (Clean Energy Wire, 2021).
Former German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, extended the period of operation for some of these nuclear reactor power plants in 2010. However, the Fukushima disaster in 2011 triggered the decision to decommission all German nuclear reactors by 2022. Since then, Germany has depended on natural gas and oil imports from Russia, the Netherlands, and Norway. The agreement to build the Nord Stream I pipeline was approved under former German Chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, a long-time supporter of Putin and the Russian energy sector (Reuters, 2022). This left its critics questioning the economic, ecological and socio-political consequences this agreement would have on the European continent. In February 2022, Russian state-owned Gazprom nominated the former Chancellor to their board of directors, due to join the board in June 2022 during their annual meeting (La Tribune, 2022) . Following Russia’s invasion into Ukraine, the German government publicly distanced themselves from Schröder.
Eurostat reported in 2019 that the European Union produced around 39% of its own energy, while relying on foreign imports for the remaining 61%. Russia is the main supplier of the EU’s crude oil, solid fossil fuels, and natural gas. Eurostat found Russia accounts for 27% of imports, while Iraq imports 9%, Nigeria and Saudi Arabia both import 8%, and Kazakhstan and Norway import 7% of the EU’s supply (Eurostat, 2022). The Nord Stream II pipeline’s construction began in 2018, but the U.S.-imposed sanctions on material providers, contractors and financial investors led to delays in its completion. Despite repeated warnings from Eastern European Member States in the pipeline’s early stages, Germany continued to support their decision and agreement with Russia’s Gazprom. In September 2021, Gazprom announced the completion of the second Baltic Sea pipeline after the last pipe sections were welded under the German water seabed. Although completed, the pipeline still needed to pass final inspections and establish a German management subsidiary in compliance with the German Energy Industry Act to allow for its inaugural use. On Tuesday, 22 February, due to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, German Chancellor Olaf Sholz announced the pipeline’s much-anticipated suspension, halting all German bureaucratic and administrative processes related to Nord Stream II certification and operation.
While much of the EU supported the implementation of rigorous sanctions on Russia, Germany’s hesitation led to some questioning their commitment and efforts in deterring Russia’s ability to finance an unprovoked war. How has Germany’s dependence on Russian fossil fuel imports affected the implementation of sanctions following the Kyiv invasion and the creation of instability on the European continent? Firstly, Germany hesitated and pushed back during the second round of sanctions where all Russian banks were to be excluded from the SWIFT global interbank payment system; today, Sberbank and Gazprombank are exempt from this sanction (Reuters, 2022). Secondly, Nord Stream I pipeline continues imports of natural gas as sanctions have not been imposed on Nord Stream AG (Reuters, 2022). Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki recalled from his meeting with the European Commission’s President Ursula Von der Leyen on Tuesday 01 March, “Russian coal [should] not be imported, imposing an embargo on Russian coal. And in the coming months, not to buy oil and gas, because these are the means by which Putin is able to finance the war machine” (Miziołek, 2022). Poland has instead suggested the import of coal from other states, such as Australia. Thirdly, Berlin finally overturned its stance on exporting weapons to conflict zones after receiving criticism and pressure regarding the lack of German aid sent to Ukraine (Bayer, Herszenhorn, Von der Burchard, 2022)
France, Energy Independence and Nuclear R&D
The World Nuclear Power Association reported in 2020 that France produced 338.7 TWh of nuclear energy (NPA, 2022). This places France in third place worldwide, behind the United States with 789.9 TWh and China with 344.7 TWh respectively. France is the largest producer of nuclear energy in the EU with 51.8% share of the EU total, followed by Germany with 9.4%, Spain 8.5% and Sweden 7.2% (Eurostat, 2022). Why has France prioritised the use of nuclear energy?
In 1945, at the end of WWII, General Charles de Gaulle created the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) (Connaissance des Énergies, 2016). The CEA was tasked with the research and development of nuclear-related research programmes such as power generation, defence, medicine, radiation protection and safety (CEA, 2021). These research efforts resulted in the creation of France’s first nuclear reactor at the Chinon Nuclear Power Plant. Due to the 1973 oil crisis and embargo and during the Arab-Israeli War, Arab members of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) imposed an embargo on the United States (Department of State, 2022). In doing so, the price of oil increased exponentially by 70%, despite the efforts of European states to distance themselves from the U.S.-Middle Eastern relations and the dwindling supply of stockpiles, and France saw an immediate need to secure future energy sources. As a result, former President Georges Pompidou authorised the construction of 54 reactors.
France has continued to support the R&D of nuclear energy, in 1977 developing the first pressurised water reactor Fessenheim I connected to the French electrical grid, using Westinghouse technology, known as the second generation of nuclear energy. The third generation Evolutionary Power Reactor (EPR) was developed by the French company, Framatone and Electricite de France (EDF) in collaboration with Siemens. Using EPR technology, Flamanville 3 in France has faced various delays due to material and technical difficulties resulting in over-spending in its budget and difficulty in meeting scheduled deadlines (EDF, 2022). As part of the EU’s Horizon 2050 long-term strategy, research carried out in 2004 on fourth generation reactors, will lead the way towards improved fuel generation performance, reduce waste production and increase temperature controls on future reactors (European Commission, 2022). This is in hopes of ensuring the EU is carbon-neutral by 2050 in line with the European Green Deal and with the EU’s commitment to global climate action under the Paris Agreement. Those in coalition with France are EU states: Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Slovakia and Finland (Strauss, 2022).
An Inevitable Outcome and its Next Steps
Today, on day 15 of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, one can see the security consequences of Germany’s dependence on Gazprom and the Nord Stream I and II pipelines. EU member states; Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia warned of the potential security risks this alliance posed to Europe’s Eastern borders. As a result, the world has watched as the European Union struggles to rid its dependency on Russian fossil fuel imports and implement sanctions that would greatly affect Russia’s economy. The hesitation stems from the potential economic consequences this would have on European citizens and the ability to replenish natural gas reserves for this coming Winter. The EU has taken this as an opportunity to push for the rapid development of renewable energy sources to end the dependence of outside imports, thereby creating a stronger, united and more secure Europe (Dewan, 2022). What this Russian invasion of our European neighbour, Ukraine, has demonstrated is the importance to not only ensure Europe’s energy security and honour its ambitious environmental climate change policies and targets, but to protect the European continent from conflict and outside states with self-interests.
Pompidou’s 1974 decision has put France at the forefront of energy independence and significantly reduced its electricity costs in comparison to its EU neighbours (WNA, 2022). Due to the majority of electricity generation coming from nuclear and hydro at a combined percentage of 80%, there are extremely low levels of carbon dioxide emissions per capita. President Emmanual Macron outlined in France’s 2022 energy strategy the construction of six third generation EPR nuclear reactors (Le Journal, 2022). In his press conference he announced France’s commitment to the development of renewable energy sources to meet both ecological and economical goals. France is currently the leader in the EU in terms of hydro renewable energy sources, generating 10% from hydroelectric power (EDF, 2022). Meanwhile Spain has Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) capabilities that could reduce the dependency on Russian fossil fuels. Through the diversification of suppliers and sources, the European Union can accelerate its energy transition to LNG, renewable and nuclear to ensure its energy independence and efficiency. This would allow the European Union to prevent similar economic and resource dependencies on outside actors should any similar conflicts arise in the future.
On 8 March, the European Commission outlined its proposed action plan to make Europe independent from Russian fossil fuels. REPowerEU aims to reduce the demand for Russian imports by two thirds before the end of the year (European Commission, 2022). The press release states, “Diversifying gas supplies, via higher Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) and pipeline imports from non-Russian suppliers, and larger volumes of biomethane and renewable hydrogen production and imports; and, reducing faster the use of fossil fuels in our homes, buildings, industry, and power system, by boosting energy efficiency, increasing renewables and electrification, and addressing infrastructure bottlenecks”. It is time to hold all EU Member States accountable to these emergency measures, the future of European citizens both within the EU and on its continent depends upon their swift adoption.
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