Nuclear Energy in the U.S. and Germany: Weighing the Risks

Energy and climate policy in the U.S. and in Germany seem to be miles apart. In 2011, Germany decided to phase-out nuclear, whereas in early 2012 the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission granted the first license to build and operate an extension of a nuclear power plant for the first time since 1978. Americans view the German “energy transformation” (Energiewende) with skepticism; conservative policymakers argue that Germany is endangering its economic welfare, whereas U.S. environmentalists fear that Germany will be unable to meet its CO2 emissions targets it has agreed to in the European emissions trading framework. When discussing risk assessment in Germany and the United States, analysts often argue that while Germans are risk-averse, Americans embrace risk more easily. If nuclear energy is considered risky, then the recent decisions in the U.S. and in Germany on nuclear energy seem to bolster this claim. However, one could conversely argue that not embracing nuclear energy is more risky as the consequences are far-reaching and have to include the complete transformation of the energy grid; including nuclear energy in the energy mix might thus be a more conservative approach to the energy policy challenges of the future. To understand the different approaches, this Issue Brief outlines the history of nuclear energy in the U.S. and Germany and analyzes how both countries arrived at a very different assessment of the risk and benefits of nuclear energy.

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The views expressed are those of the author(s) alone. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies.
Jessica Hart

Jessica Hart

Communications Officer

Jessica Hart is the Communications Officer at AICGS, managing the Institute’s publications, social media, outreach, media relations, and website. She also produces AICGS' podcast, The Zeitgeist.She has held a number of roles at AICGS, including Research Program Coordinator, Managing Editor, and Financial Officer. Before joining AICGS, Ms. Hart worked at the OSU Foreign Language Center, for an Ohio senatorial campaign, and at the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy in Berlin.

Ms. Hart holds an MA in Political Science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, a BA in Political Science and International Studies from The Ohio State University, and a graduate certificate in Nonprofit Management from Johns Hopkins University.

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jhart@aicgs.org | 202-672-1378

Kirsten Verclas

ORISE Science and Technology Policy Fellow

Kirsten Verclas is an ORISE Science and Technology Policy Fellow. Previously, she was a Program Manager in the International Department of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) working on regulatory partnerships in Africa under a NARUC-U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Cooperative Agreement. Before coming to NARUC, Ms. Verclas was a Senior Program Manager at the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies (AICGS) at Johns Hopkins University, where she managed the Institute’s grant projects. She initially joined AICGS as Executive Assistant in 2003 and started working in the Institute’s Research Program in 2008. Ms. Verclas has written extensively on energy and climate as well as security policy in the transatlantic context. She holds a BA in International Relations with a Minor in Economics from Franklin and Marshall College and an MA in International Relations with a concentration in Security Studies from The Elliott School at The George Washington University. She also earned an MS in Energy Policy and Climate from Johns Hopkins University in August 2013.

She is a 2017-2018 participant in AICGS’ project “A German-American Dialogue of the Next Generation: Global Responsibility, Joint Engagement,” sponsored by the Transatlantik-Programm der Bundesrepublik Deutschland aus Mitteln des European Recovery Program (ERP) des Bundesministeriums für Wirtschaft und Energie (BMWi).