Reportedly, the EU Commission plans to soon include nuclear power in its green finance taxonomy, finally making it eligible for favorable financing and carbon credits on a par with wind and solar.
This could be spun two ways: as a victory for science over populist capture of climate policies, or as a tipping point in Brussels angst at the growing complexities and costs of the “100% renewables and no nuclear” model.
In reality, it’s some and some.
On the one hand, in March, the Commission received reports solicited from the Joint Research Centre (JRC), its scientific expert arm, finding that nuclear waste is “manageable”, posing no “significant” harm to the environment, and that nuclear energy has been demonstrated to be eminently safe.
However, these assessments are not surprising. Had the Commission requested these years ago, they undoubtedly would have concluded similarly. Nuclear, public-health, risk-assessment and other expert bodies have been saying these things for years (full disclosure: my PhD is in experimental nuclear physics ).
The question then is, why is this scientific consensus only now becoming actionable for the Commission?
Here is my talk [English & Ukrainian videos] for the Ukraine Energy Security Dialogue of 01.12.21, via Zoom, organized by Kyiv’s Dixie Group. Program & Speakers are below.
I outlined failures of the legal and political models Russia’s Gazprom has embraced to eventually bring the Nord Stream 2 pipeline into operation under the anti-monopoly provisions of the EU’s Third Energy Package law..
Critical observers have understandably interpreted the public optimism and “gas-Godfather”-like posturing of Kremlin and Gazprom officials as evidence of self-confidence, even arrogance. In contrast, here I outlined what actually amounts to a history of repeated failures of Nord Stream 2 AG strategies.
I termed its first two failed strategies as “Plan A” and “Plan B,” and the current one as “Plan C.”
Putin’s recent gas-Godfather-like statements that Nord Stream 2 could alleviate the current European natural gas price and supply crisis is an obvious attempt to pressure the EU to rush Nord Stream 2 approval in ways violating the EU’s own rule of law.
As a Polish expert wrote in 2019,: “The amendment to the [European Union’s] gas directive explicitly confirms that EU law applies in the case of Nord Stream 2 (that is, to the section running through German territorial sea), including the rules on unbundling, third-party access, independent operators et al.: (Agata Łoskot-Strachota, “The gas directive revision: EU law poses problems for Nord Stream 2,” OSW, Warsaw, 21.02.2-19.).
However, Putin’s hubris should be taken with a grain of salt. In reality, his options in this regard are subject to current technical-economic constraints of the Russia gas sector, as my research had indicated in recent weeks.
Russian domestic storage was announced to be at 97% full mid-last-week due to its continuing all-out Gazprom filling campaign, reportedly at the high rate of about 300 million cubic meters/day (mcm/d). The plan had been to finish by 1 November.. Thereafter, this maxed-out production has to immediately be choked off or be sent somewhere else – and indeed there is only one option; but it is not Nord Stream 2…
One caveat: a recently announced 7 November Gazprom export start date did not made sense. Where would the maxed out production flows go from 1 to 7 November? However, an article yesterday by Bloomburg [possible paywall] clarifies “Gazprom said Wednesday that the Russian re-injection campaign would be a week longer than the original Nov. 1 conclusion.” This is quite plausible – it is simply taking an extra six days to top off Russian domestic storage.
So to reiterate points I have stressed over the past few weeks (e.g., at Naftogaz’ Ukraine Gas investment Congress closing panel in Kyiv last Thursday-I’ll put a video of this here soon- and in various interviews):
First, while Putin has relished playing the gas-mafia Godfather (e.g., at the St Petersburg gas conference two weeks ago), asserting that, if Nord Stream 2 is rapidly approved, Gazprom exports could save Europe this winter, he has been merely posturing as the strongman decider. He wanted to appear to be craftily withholding extra, non-contracted gas supplies needed to fill the company’s storage facilities in Germany and throughout the EU, all still now at worryingly low levels long after the traditional filling season ended at the start of October.
“Cooperation in energy transformation and trade to increase the economic strength of the Three Seas Region …”
Kongres590 – Warsaw – 14 October 2021
Moderator: prof. dr. hab. Zbigniew Krysiak, Chairman of the Program Council of the Institute of Schuman Thought Panellists:
Dr. Thomas W. O’Donnell, (PhD Nuclear Physics; Lecturer in Berlin & Energy & Geopolitical Analyst),
Julius Zellah, (President of the Light for Africa Online Foundation)
Paweł Kotowski, (Deputy Director of the Department of Economic Cooperation, Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
Jarosław Malczewski, (President of the Polish Dairy Group),
Dr. Krzysztof Malczewski, (President of the B-2M Company)
Key points of my talk:
1. Poland has no previous experience in nuclear energy; and this is a difficult problem that needs to be tackled starting now. Also, any institute needs a sufficient scale to guarantee both high standards and employment security to those trained for industry, academia, safety, and planning. It is for this reason that nuclear training in Poland’ should be done jointly, together with all 12 of the Three Seas Initiative members (i.e., the eastern EU member states, and this may soon include also Ukraine – many of which countries already have established nuclear programs). And, as part of the Three Seas Initiative, this means also in conjunction with the USA, in particular its Department of Energy with a vast network of nationl laboratories and obviously decades of nuclear experience to draw on. Continue reading →
On Friday, 8 October, I was interviewed, with Aura Sabadus (@ASabadus) of ICIS-London, about Nord Stream 2’s impact on European energy politics on”Strait Talk” with TRT host Ayse Suberker. We discussed the geopolitical aims of Russian and German leaders for partnering on this pipeline.
I stressed, the issue is not whether Europe is dependent on Russian gas – it is and it will remain so for the foreseeable future for up to 40% of its imports. The issue is what route this gas takes to arrive from Russia into Europe.
Consider: Russia historically exported 80% of the gas it sends to Europe using massive Soviet-era pipelines transiting Ukraine, the remainder via a Belarus-Poland-Germany pipeline. However, for 20 years Continue reading →
I was quite happy with the answer of IEA (International Energy Agency*) director, Dr. Fadi Birol, to two critical questions I posed, first on how the European Commission should include nuclear power in its “green financing taxonomy,” and secondly, against German over-reliance on variable renewables (I termed this “renewable fundamentalism”) which I said produces high “organizational entropy,” that is, unworkable and unaffordable, completely “reinvented” so-called “smart grids” with “grid scale stage” whose technology is not sufficiently developed all to cope with the problem of unavoidable wind and solar energy fluctuations, which become more massive as the percentage of installed renewables increases. This is a significant contribution to Germany’s (and the EU’s) present crises of energy supply and price security. (The video above is set to start at my two questions.)
Following the arrest of a British employee at its Berlin embassy as a Russian spy, it’s been suggested that Russia has tried to infiltrate Germany in particular because of its role at the centre of Europe and because of its ties to Moscow. A former MI5 agent-recruiter, Annie Machon, plus UK academic expert Dr. Jenny Mathers at Aberystwyth University, and Dr. Tom O’Donnell, at Hertie School of Governance in Berlin are here to tell us if we’re witnessing a return to the Cold War ways of spying.
Some comments on the show: First off, my fellow panelists are experts on human espionage and Russian spy craft – which I am not – and were extremely informative In this discussion on David Foster’s Roundtable.
An overview and elaboration of my points: I stressed, besides a Cold-War-like level of Russian espionage in Berlin, there is a general openness in Germany to economic and political interpenetration and integration with Russia. In plain sight one sees everyday what I called the “unique influence and penetration” of German society as compared to any other EU or NATO ally.
I stressed energy-sector examples – most especially Nord Stream 1 and, now, Nord Stream 2 pipelines, built by German partnerships with Putin’s Russia, aiming to avoid Russian gas having to transit Ukraine to arrive in Germany and beyond. The degree of this open integration with Russia is unique in the EU. Consider: the Germany’s pre-Merkel chancellor, Schröder, heads the boards of both Gazprom and Rosneft; that an x-German Stazi secret-police officer is the CEO of Gazprom-owned Nord Stream 2 AG, and that overwhelming numbers of German experts “consult’ for Gazprom, including even the 2005-06 German Federal State Secretary for Defense(!) – who is a member of Merkel’s CDU/CSU party.
My Op-Ed on German motives for Nord Stream 2 appeared in the Dziennik Gazeta Pravwna 4 Aug. 2021 (no. 149 dziennik.pl, forsal.pl), derived from an English interview (below here) with Artur Ciechanowiicz (PAP, Brussels). [Polish Op-Ed link]
Here is my full English interview, expanded for clarity:
1) [AC] What are the consequences of the Nord Stream 2 deal between Washington and Berlin?
[T O’D] Stepping back a bit: this deal marks a victory by Berlin in its long and intensifying contest with its ally, the USA, over which of these two biggest transatlantic powers will decide the alliance’s strategy with respect to Russia and China. The two allies deeply disagree on this matter.
In the USA, both Democrats and Republicans have agreed since the Obama administration that “Great Power Competition” must be the strategy for the alliance versus Russia and China. The Americans strongly feel it is necessary to “decouple” from globalism’s deep trade and tech integration with China and Russia, that these states must either change their disrespect for global trade rules and moderate their increasingly aggressive geopolitical activities, or be isolated and forcibly contained.
Germany, with almost 50% of its GDP from global trade, deeply disagrees with this US strategy [i.e., German exports provide 46.9% of GDP, the USA’s only 11.7%]. Berlin likes global rules; but its unbalanced economy cannot afford trade decoupling and it broadly opposes forceful military containment of China and Russia. Instead, it wants only negotiations and occasional sanctions.
So, Nord Stream 2 is an iconic example of this clash, this “leadership fight” between the USA and Germany over the transatlantic alliance’s strategy towards Russia. Berlin wants to maintain energy ties at all costs, while the USA has long advocated maximum European energy independence from Russia, and to constrain Russia (and defend Ukraine) by forcing Putin to continue having to send gas across Ukraine to reach his European customers.
Russia, for its part, wants to re-incorporate former-Soviet Ukraine [plus Belarus, Moldova and Georgia, and minimally keep them outside of the EU and NATO], and has wanted to avoid having to send its gas to Europe via Ukraine. Moscow’s transit dependence on Ukraine not only provided income for Ukraine, this constrained Russian subversion and military aggression there, for fear that the transit pipelines could be interrupted by either Ukrainian state or non-state actors.
For Germany, the “insecurity” of having to import Russian gas through Ukraine deeply alarmed Berlin. And so it made a strategic decision over 20 years ago to partner with Russia, to build new pipelines to bring gas directly from Russia to Germany [via Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2] and on to European customers long supplied with the same Russian gas but via Ukraine. The aim was to make Germany the new hub for distribution of Russian gas in Europe.
Given Berlin’s logic, the 2014 Russian war on Ukraine and its annexation of Crimea only made it more sure than ever of the dangers of relying on Russian gas imports that have to transit Ukraine, and it redoubled its efforts to complete NS2, notwithstanding this would undermine German relations with three consecutive US administrations and with many of its EU allies, esp. Poland and East-Central Europe – a region where its much-prized soft power has been sacrificed.
My live interview (22 July 2021) on the Nord Stream 2 deal between Germany and USA. with CGTN (London office of Chinese state broadcaster. This was not edited, or I would not post it here.)
I explain the bind which Berlin had put the Biden administration in for agreeing to waive sanctions on Nord Stream 2 (NS2) in return for this bad deal. The German side was playing hardball. Berlin had made clear to Washington (well before Biden arrived in office) that the pipeline would be finished regardless of sanctions.
The German (and the Danish) side had already allowed Gazprom-owned North Stream 2 AG to continue construction in their territorial waters even when reputable insurance companies and the reputable construction-commissioning firms had abandoned the project due to the threat of US sanctions; and Berlin had made it clear to the US side that it would be completed regardless of any further sanctions. Sanctions on German firms could be circumvented by Berlin continuing to allow Russian firms to do any work that German firms were prevented from performing. And, sanctioning German firms, or NS2 AG, would cause outrage in every German political party except for the Greens, the only German party clearly opposed to the project. However, the Greens had made clear they did not think US sanctions on German firms was an appropriate measure for an ally to take.
I told DW that the key reason the US has always opposed Nord Stream 2 (NS2) was that it undermines Ukraine’s security – as well as Poland’s and other eastern European and Baltic states’ security.
I told DW that one can argue with the Biden-Blinken assessment (as I have) that they “had to” waive sanctions on the Russian-owned NS2 company, insisting that the pipeline was going to be completed anyway. Indeed, German and Dutch regulators had already allowed work to proceed even when the insurance firm and commissioning firm had left due to sanction threats, and Berlin had promised it would be completed no matter the sanctions.
However, the additional factor, which US spokesmen cite only obliquely, is that Merkel’s government was evidently willing to deny Biden a show of transatlantic unity from which to confront Putin. This shows the extreme lengths Merkel’s government had gone to to insure success in her partnership with Putin to finish NS2..
For Moscow, the essential aim of this partnership has been to avoid the “risk” (as Russian officials have put it) of having to export its gas across Ukraine, a country Putin wants to annex and is now at war with.
For Berlin, the most essential aim of this partnership is to avoid the “risk” (as I have been told repeatedly) of having to import Russian gas via what has long been seen by German political and economic elites as an “insecure” Ukraine (although it is obviously Moscow responsible for this “insecurity”), and as an “unreliable” Ukraine (i.e., German elites had lost confidence in Ukraine to reform itself, or at least the willingness to risk the process).
This German pipeline partnership with Putin,, in other words, is a decision to pursue narrow-national interests. It elevates protection of Germany’s Russian gas supplies for its troubled domestic energy system, and protection of Russian gas supplies for its principal EU trading partners, above the interests of Ukraine’s security and independence as Putin pushes to reincorporate Ukraine into the Russian Federation.
Rather than showing solidarity by forcing Putin to continue shipping his gas to Germany and to other EU sates via Ukraine, the gas will now come directly to Germany. Germany will become the principal hub for distribution of Russian gas to Europe, and Berlin will “handle” any difficulties with Moscow and Putin. Of course, Berlin never consulted with the other EU Member states, much less Kyiv, on what amounts to its narrow-nationalist energy-security plan for Europe.
It was my pleasure to be with Thierry Bros of Sciences Po University, Paris, and Peter Zalmayev, Ukrainian security analyst and executive director of Eurasian Democracy Initative on David Foster’s Roundtable on TRT World, London, broadcast 9 June 2021.
I discussed Biden’s apparent reasoning for waiving Nord Stream 2 sanctions:
First off, the German government of Angela Merkel simply would not cooperate otherwise. Allowing her pet energy project to go forward was the price she had demanded for trans-Atlantic “unity” before Biden’s summit with Putin.
(Aside: My research in Berlin and elsewhere has convinced me that, at no point from the late-Trump administration through Biden’s six months in office, did the German side actually engage in any meaningful “negotiation” or discussions with the US side to seek to find some compromise or to initiate a moratorium on construction. Not until Biden waived sanctions on Nord Stream 2 AG, and decided not to sanction any German firms inolved in construction did Merkel show any real interest in discussions. She emphasized her change of attitude on negotiating with Biden about: “what now are also the necessary commonalities in the relationship with Russia” in comments during a German national broadcast interview immediately following Biden’s sanctions waiver. Until this waiver, she had held up any real discussion of the pressing issues of trans-Atlantic unity-in-general, whcih urgently needed attention.
Here are four issues on the Biden-Blinkin sanctions decision I discussed with EuroNews and other news media in the last few days:
-1- Regarding Biden’s waiving of sanctions on the company Nord Stream 2 AG and its head Matthias Warnig (former Stazi officer):
These sanctions would be unlikely to stop NS2, though it would cause difficulty for the firm and the European oil and gas firms that are partnering with it.
I am not surprised, however, in light of the upcoming Biden-Putin summit. It should be noted that the Russian side (e.g., their ambassador here in Berlin) has made clear, publicly, that sanctions would kill the Biden-Putin summit — which both sides need on many hot issues (see my comments of yesterday, on Iran negotiations, and US necessity to withdraw on-the-ground forces from the Middle East, and to focus on “Great Power Competition” vs. especially China, and Russia).
-2- As for effect of the new sanctions on the pipeline’s construction, and what options the US has:
The English version is below here | Mein Op-Ed-Artikel wurde am 6. April 2021 im Tagesspiegel Background in Berlin gedruckt.
Die Ukraine als „Zentralbank“ für europäische Energie
Thomas O’Donnell, Hertie School of Governance
Wie kann die Gasdominanz Russlands strategisch eingehegt werden? Der Wissenschaftler Thomas O’Donnell von der Hertie School of Governance prüft in seinem Standpunkt die Möglichkeit, die Ukraine mit ihren großen Gasspeichern zu einer Art „Zentralbank“ für europäische Energie zu machen und sie als Puffer zu nutzen. Zusammen mit weiteren Alternativen zu den Nord-Stream-Pipelines verbessere das die Versorgungssicherheit stark.
Der Chef des ukrainischen Gastransportsystems, Sergiy Makogon, hat vorgeschlagen, dass Europa die Ukraine als flexiblen und strategischen Energieknotenpunkt akzeptiert und dabei die Vorteile ihrer einzigartigen Gastransport- und -speicherinfrastruktur nutzt.
Was dieses Konzept glaubwürdig macht, ist, dass die Ukraine seit 2014, kurz nachdem die Maidan-Revolution und die russische Aggression begannen, ihren Gassektor erfolgreich in diese Richtung umgestaltet hat. Mit Hilfe der EU rüstete die Ukraine rasch die Exportpipelines in die Slowakei, nach Polen, Ungarn und Rumänien um, um Rückflüsse (Reverse-Flow) zu ermöglichen. Das befreite Kiew schnell von der Notwendigkeit, russisches Gas zu kaufen, und stellte sicher, dass ein solcher „Handel“ in Zukunft nicht dazu genutzt werden kann, Moskau zugeneigte Oligarchen zu fördern.
Op-Ed: Ukraine as “Central Bank” of European energy
Dr. Thomas O’Donnell, Hertie School of Governance | Published in: Tagesspiegel Background, Berlin. 6 April 2021
How can Russia’s gas dominance be strategically contained? Dr. Thomas O’Donnell of the Hertie School of Governance, Berlin, examines the possibility of turning Ukraine with its large gas storage facilities into a kind of “central bank” for European energy and using it as a buffer. Together with other alternatives to the Nord Stream pipelines, this will greatly improve European security of supply.
The CEO of Ukrainian’s gas transmission pipeline system, Mr. Sergiy Makogon, has proposed that Europe embrace Ukraine as a flexible and strategic energy hub, taking advantage of its unique gas-transport and -storage infrastructure.
What makes this concept credible is that Ukraine has been successfully re-shaping its gas sector in this direction since 2014, shortly after its Maidan Revolution and Russia’s aggression began. With EU assistance, Ukraine rapidly retooled export pipelines to Slovakia, Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary to permit reverse flows. This rapidly freed Kyiv from buying Russian gas and assured this “trade” could not be used in future to cultivate pro-Moscow oligarchs.
This 10 February half-hour roundtable on TRT Television, London looked at the possibility of Nord Stream 2 being stopped by US sanctions. My thanks to host David Foster for the invite.
Today is 20 February, and I should add that since this was recorded, the Biden-Harris-Blinken administration has surprised Congress by sanctioning significantly fewer ships than it expected to be sanctioned for assisting Gazprom to lay pipe in Danish and German waters.
This White House attempt to generate goodwill with Berlin and with Merkel’s ruling coalition is generating bipartisan objections in Congress. Upcoming posts will analyze this development . Tom O’D. Below is the text from TRT network’s promotion of the show. and guests’ names and affiliations.