More atomic panic? Germany shuts down its last nuclear power plant

  • Germany will shut down three remaining reactors by midnight on Saturday
  • The commercial nuclear sector has been operating since 1961
  • Berlin aims for renewable energy only by 2035

BERLIN (Reuters) – Germany plans to pull out its last three nuclear power plants by Saturday, ending a six-decade program that spawned one of Europe’s strongest protest movements but was briefly put on hold by the Ukraine war.

The smoking towers at the Isar II, Emsland and Neckarwestheim II reactors were due to shut down forever by midnight Saturday as Berlin implements its plan to generate fully renewable electricity by 2035.

After years of prevarication, Germany vowed to abandon nuclear power once and for all after the 2011 Japanese disaster at Fukushima released radiation into the air and terrorized the world.

But the final truce was postponed last summer to this year after Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine prompted Germany to halt imports of Russian fossil fuels. Prices have risen and there have been fears of energy shortages around the world – but now Germany is confident again about gas supplies and expansion into renewables.

Germany’s commercial nuclear sector began with the commissioning of the Kahl reactor in 1961: politicians eagerly promoted it but companies faced skepticism.

Seven commercial plants joined the network in the early years, as the oil crisis of the 1970s helped public acceptance.

Nicholas Wendler, a spokesman for German nuclear technology industry group KernD, said expansion was being stifled to avoid hurting the coal sector.

But by the 1990s, more than a third of the electricity in newly reunified Germany came from its 17 reactors.

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In the following decade, a coalition government including the Green Party — which emerged from the anti-nuclear movement of the 1970s — introduced a law that would have phased out all reactors by around 2021.

Conservative-led governments led by former Chancellor Angela Merkel were teetering on it – until Fukushima.

Economic stupidity

Arnold Fats, a former lawmaker for Merkel’s Christian Democrats, said the decision was also intended to sway state elections in Baden-Württemberg where the case was in favor of the Greens.

“I called it the biggest economic stupidity on the part of the party since (he was first in government) 1949, and I stand by that,” Fats, one of only five conservative lawmakers to oppose the withdrawal bill, told Reuters.

The last three plants contributed only about 5% of Germany’s electricity production in the first three months of the year, according to the Economics Ministry.

Data from the Federal Statistical Office showed that nuclear power accounted for just 6% of energy production in Germany last year, compared to 44% from renewables.

However, two-thirds of Germans favor extending the life of reactors or connecting older plants to the grid, with only 28% supporting phasing out, a survey by the Opportunity Institute earlier this week showed.

“I think this is certainly fueled largely by the fear that the supply situation is simply not secure,” Forsa analyst Peter Matuszek told Reuters.

Reuters graphics

The government says supplies are guaranteed after phasing out nuclear power and that Germany will continue to export electricity, citing high levels of gas storage, new liquefied gas plants on the northern coast and the expansion of renewable energies.

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However, proponents of nuclear power say Germany will have to eventually return to nuclear power if it is to phase out fossil fuels and reach its goal of becoming greenhouse gas neutral in all sectors by 2045 because wind and solar power will not fully meet demand. .

“By phasing out nuclear power, Germany is sticking to coal and gas because there isn’t always enough wind or sunshine,” said Rainer Klott, president of the pro-nuclear nonprofit Nucleria.

With the end of the era of atomic energy, Germany is required to find a permanent repository of about 1,900 highly radioactive barrels of nuclear waste by 2031.

“We still have at least another 60 years ahead of us, which we will need to dismantle the residue and its long-term safe storage,” said Wolfram Koenig, head of the Federal Office for the Safety of Nuclear Waste Management.

The government also acknowledges that safety issues remain given that neighboring France and Switzerland still rely heavily on nuclear energy.

“Radioactivity does not stop at borders,” said Inge Paolini, head of the German Radiation Protection Office, noting that seven plants in neighboring countries were less than 100 kilometers (62.14 miles) from Germany.

(Covering) Reham Al-Koussa, in addition to Maria Martinez. Editing by Frederick Hein and Andrew Cawthorne

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Reham Zucchini

Thomson Reuters

Reham El-Kassaa is the energy and climate change correspondent for Reuters in Germany, covering Europe’s largest economy, Europe’s green transition and Europe’s energy crisis. Elkoussa is a graduate of Columbia University School of Journalism with 10 years of experience as a journalist covering the refugee crisis in Europe and the Syrian civil war for publications such as Der Spiegel, USA Today and The Washington Times. Al-Qusaa was among two teams to win Reuters’ “Journalist of the Year” awards in 2022 for its coverage of the energy crisis in Europe and the Ukraine war. She also won a Foreign Press Association Award in 2017 in New York and a White House Correspondents Association Scholarship that year.

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