Following the recent announcements that both Germany and Switzerland are to stop their production of nuclear energy and use cleaner forms of energy, we are left with what will be the alternative source of energy actually be? Well, we have just under 11 years to find out.

When you consider the economic giant fulfils 23 % of its total energy requirements via nuclear capabilities it is going to be quite a challenge to find sustainable alternative sources in such a short space of time.

Germany witnessed an unparalleled public outcry to the recent earthquake and tsunami that struck the coast of northern Japan earlier in March, crippling the Fukushima nuclear plant. As a result, of the 17 nuclear reactors already up and running, Germany want to close 8 fairly old plants almost immediately and phase out the remainder as soon as 2022, leaving scientists around the world quite a challenge to find suitable alternatives in a relatively short space of time.

Shale gas is being touted as being the best replacement and more frighteningly the saviour from our nuclear and alternative fuel needs.

Shale rock lies a good 2 miles beneath the earths surface and the extraction of gas from this rock has many safety concerns centred around it. Louisiana is investing heavily in shale extraction to such an extent that America now feel its dependence on other countries for energy has been almost eliminated. Granted, over the past few years America have seen consumer gas prices fall and the migration to shale gas become almost mainstream; you have to wonder what the ultimate cost will be though.

Gas has given the US another 100 years or more of energy stability, my argument is what then? We need to continue investing and researching alternative energy sources including nuclear. Research into its management, storage and waste, needs to be approached methodically and of course with due care and attention, not in the way countries have currently subscribed to it, or been convinced in to subscribing to it. No alternative energy source will be a panacea for our woes.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) recently published a report of events leading up to and after the Fukushima plant disaster and it concludes that nuclear officials at the plant vastly underestimated the size of any tsunami that might hit the region, inspite of warnings from scientists to the contrary. The resulting 46 foot high tsunami knocked out vital cooling systems causing the reactor to overheat.

I hope nations learn from the events unfolding in Japan and its knock on global effects, not forgetting of course those events in recent history such as BPs Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico, otherwise we are committing ourselves to a very uncertain energy future.

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DOI: 10.1016/S1369-7021(11)70150-X