18 November 2021: Covid schlägt zurück; Protecting swallows; Musical relief; A camera crime; Vigo lights; & Other stuff.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Dawn%2BBox%2BDay%2B2015.JPG
Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops
Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable
Christopher Howse: ‘A Pilgrim in Spain’

Covid  

That virus certainly has legs – particularly in (ex?)poster-case Germany, where case and death rates have suddenly started to rise steeply. Not forecast/expected, I believe. 

Cosas de España/Galiza

Lenox Napier is a champion of those Brits – the ‘Swallows’ – who’ve traditionally spent 6 months of the year in Spain, totally legally maintaining their tax residence in the UK. Quite rightly, Lenox stresses that these  are worth far more to Spain in money terms than tourists – at least on a per capita basis – but are ignored by the Spanish government. As Lenox notes here, at least politicians down in the Valencia region want to see the plight of the Swallows improved and think this is possible under EU rules. We’ll see.

Meanwhile . . . A welcome development for British musicians wanting to perform in Spain.

Obstreperous Catalan nationalists have vetoed a statue of Don Quijote and his mate in Barcelona as being ‘too Spanish’.

Here in Galicia . . . A resident of La Coruña has been fined €1,000 for leaving his dashboard camera on and so recording members of the public in the street without their permission. His defence that he was aiming to film vandals was rejected. Seems tough. Unless he had ‘form’.

At the other end of our region . . .Vigo gets a mention here. There are some in the city who regard their mayor as insane. And a few outside it as well.

Germany

The Nord Stream dilemma is the result of a disastrous German mistake. German energy policy provides a salutary reminder of what happens when zealotry trumps pragmatism, says the writer of the article below.

The Way of the World 

Life seems more tenuous, brittle and flimsy, just as everyone is trying to have more fun and return to their old routines. It’s like a game of snakes and ladders: no one knows when they might go down again. Meanwhile it’s hard to cope with images of the super-rich queueing up to buy more yachts and country houses and the stream of news highlighting the profiteers who made millions out of Covid when everyone else still feels the strain from the pandemic.

Finally  . . .

FB today offered me 8 socialist groups for consideration. I was foxed by their algorithm until I saw that one of my FB friends is a member of all of them. A committed chap, it seems.

Amusing quote no. 3: There are 3 kinds of people in the world: Those who can’t stand Picasso, those who can’t stand Raphael, and those who’ve never heard of either of them: John White .

This blog can be seen on Twitter and on the Facebook group page – Thoughts from Galicia.  

If you’ve landed here looking for info on Galicia or Pontevedra, try here. 

THE ARTICLE

Nord Stream dilemma is the result of a disastrous German mistake. German energy policy provides a salutary reminder of what happens when zealotry trumps pragmatism: Ben Wright 

The German novel Fall-Out is not exactly a laugh a minute. Published in 1987, the year after the Chernobyl disaster, it tells the story of a similar incident occurring on German soil through the eyes of a 14-year-old girl called Janna-Berta. 

She tries to escape the accident with her brother but he is run over and killed. Then her hair falls out. She makes friends with a girl called Ayse who promptly dies of radiation poisoning. She eventually finds an aunt amid the chaos of mass evacuations who tells Janna-Berta her parents and younger brother have also died. It’s somewhat light on light relief.

Gudrun Pausewang’s novel, which became a set text in many German schools, is as much a product of the anti-nuclear public opinion in the country as it is a cause. But having scared several generations of school kids stiff, it is a major reason why such strong feelings persist to this day. And that sentiment has undoubtedly resulted in one of the biggest policy mistakes in the western world in recent years.

By the end of 2022, Germany will have shut down the last of its nuclear power plants. But it needs to get its energy from somewhere and unfortunately renewables are not yet up to the job on their own.

Boris Johnson took what appeared to be a thinly veiled swipe at Germany in his Mansion House speech on Monday night, saying that European nations must choose between “mainlining” Russian gas and defending peace in Ukraine. 

Then on Tuesday Germany “temporarily” suspended the certification process for the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline designed to bring Russian gas into the country under the Baltic sea. 

It looks like this is the result of a technical issue caused by Gazprom, the pipeline’s Russian owner, failing to properly establish an operating subsidiary under German law. Nevertheless, European gas prices soared on the news. In reality, Germany doesn’t have much choice about mainlining Russian gas.

A lot of the blame for that lies with the country’s Green party, which is about to form a “traffic light” coalition government with the SDP and FDP. Its uncompromising anti-nuclear stance has resulted in Germany having some of the highest energy costs in the western world, actually burning more coal and being fatally compromised in its dealings with Russia, which is amassing troops on the border of Ukraine.

Germany’s anti-nuclear movement was born in the 1970s on the back of entirely understandable if ultimately misplaced fears. With the Iron Curtain draped across the country, Germany was on the frontline of the Cold War and panic about the bomb. A broad coalition of students, academics, peaceniks and nimbys organised mass marches to protest against the building of new nuclear power plants. 

In the late 1970s, they joined forces with environmental campaigners to form the Green party, which won its first seats in the federal parliament in 1983. The Chernobyl disaster three years later, and concerns about a radioactive cloud heading east from Ukraine, hardened sentiment yet further.

In 1998, Gerhard Schröder won power when his SPD party formed a coalition with the Greens. This led to a “nuclear consensus” to shut down all German nuclear power plants by 2022.

When Angela Merkel became Chancellor, the pragmatic former quantum chemist saw the error of this policy and decided to phase out the phase out. But following the 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan, Merkel realised even she couldn’t keep fighting public opinion and u-turned on the u-turn.  

In 2000, nuclear power stations generated 29.5pc of Germany’s energy. By this time next year that figure will be zero. Hence the need for Russian gas to keep the lights on when the wind doesn’t blow.

Nord Stream II faces strong opposition from the US Congress and many other EU countries. Crucially the pipeline allows Russia to transport gas to Europe while circumventing routes through Ukraine. Experts fear this could increase the risk of Moscow making further interventions in the region, having already annexed Crimea and sparked a war in the east of the country. 

There are hints that German public opinion about nuclear power is beginning to shift, especially if extending the life of existing power plants could shield households from the kind of sharp energy price spikes they’ve experienced so far this year. But policy is very unlikely to change as long the Greens are in power.

The open question is whether Germany will oppose plans by the European Commission’s scientific body, the Joint Research Centre, to brand nuclear as a safe, low-carbon energy source and give it a green investment label, which could result in more private investment. If so, a national mistake will become a regional one.  

As the UK maps out its own route to net zero, German energy policy provides a salutary reminder of what happens when zealotry trumps pragmatism and perfection becomes the enemy of the good enough.

It is usually climate-change denialists who are accused of being anti-science. But the anti-nuclear environmentalists are not blameless in this regard. 

Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and Fukushima loom large in our collective consciences. However, for every terawatt hour of electricity produced, nuclear energy is ten to 100 times safer than coal or gas, according to Robert Gale, the US oncologist and radiation expert.

Yes, it would be fantastic if every nation could be run purely by renewables. But that’s currently not possible. Nuclear is the best and safest means of producing reliable baseload power. 

The UK has made important steps in recent weeks to decide the financing mechanism of new plants and help fund a consortium to develop small modular reactors. Similar initiatives in the past have petered out. That can’t be allowed to happen this time.

There are big problems with nuclear power – not least the massive upfront costs of building plants and then dealing with the waste they produce. But if phasing out nuclear power means you burn more coal and slip a little deeper into Putin’s pocket, you have to ask whether the fall out from the alternative is not both more costly and far more dangerous.

3 comments

  1. Colin, the Socialist groups, I expect that’s down to me, sorry. As for commited, well some folk say perhaps I should be.

    Like

  2. The BBC quotes RR claiming that each SMR would generate 470 megawatts, nominally the same power as 150 wind turbines, if the wind blows. Right now, (it was 15th November when I sent this email to friends) wind is generating just 4% & at what cost to us? https://gridwatch.co.uk/

    The 16 SMR units would produce 7.529 gigawatts in total, which would more than double nuclear generated electricity to 33% of demand for £32 billion, just a third of the cost of the Boris HS2 Birmingham folly.

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-59212983

    Like

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