Nuclear fury? Germany closes last nuclear power plants

  • Germany has decided to shut down the remaining three reactors by midnight on Saturday
  • The commercial nuclear industry has been operating since 1961
  • Berlin aims to use only renewable energy by 2035

BERLIN, April 14 (Reuters) – Germany will shut down its last three nuclear power plants by Saturday, ending a six-decade program that has spawned one of Europe’s strongest protest movements but has seen a brief recovery due to the war in Ukraine.

The smoke towers of the Isar II, Emsland and Neckerwestheim II reactors are to be permanently shut down at midnight on Saturday as Berlin implements a plan for fully renewable power generation by 2035.

After Japan’s 2011 Fukushima disaster sent radiation into the air and spooked the world, Germany vowed to resolutely abandon nuclear power, following years of pioneering.

But the final wind-down for the year was delayed last summer after Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine prompted Germany to freeze Russian fossil fuel imports. Prices soared and there were fears of energy shortages around the world – but now Germany is confident again about gas supplies and renewables expansion.

Germany’s commercial nuclear industry began in 1961 with the operation of the Cal reactor: enthusiastically promoted by politicians but met with skepticism by companies.

Due to the oil crisis of the 1970s, seven commercial plants joined the grid in the early years.

However, the expansion was blocked to avoid harming the coal sector, said Nicolas Wendler, a spokesman for KernD, Germany’s nuclear technology industry group.

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

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Over the next decade, a coalition government including the Green Party, which grew out of the anti-nuclear reactor movement of the 1970s, introduced legislation that would lead to a phase-out of all reactors by 2021.

Conservative governments led by former Chancellor Angela Merkel went back and forth over Fukushima.

‘Economic Stupidity’

Arnold Watts, a former lawmaker from Merkel’s Christian Democrats (SPD), said the decision was intended to lead to a state election in Baden-W├╝rttemberg, where the issue played into the hands of the Greens.

I called it the party’s biggest economic folly since 1949 (when it was first in government) and I stand by it,” Watts, one of five conservative lawmakers who opposed the withdrawal bill, told Reuters.

The last three plants contributed just 5% of electricity production in Germany in the first three months of the year, the economy ministry said.

Nuclear power accounted for just 6% of Germany’s energy production last year, compared to 44% from renewables, data from the Federal Statistics Office show.

However, two-thirds of Germans want to extend the life of reactors or connect old plants back to the grid, with only 28% supporting a phase-out, a survey by the Forsa Institute showed earlier this week.

“I think it’s certainly fed to a large extent by the fear that the supply situation is simply not secure,” Forsa analyst Peter Matusek told Reuters.

Reuters Graphics

The government says supply is guaranteed after the nuclear plant and that Germany will still export electricity, citing higher gas storage levels, new liquefied natural gas terminals on the north coast and the expansion of renewable energy.

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However, nuclear advocates say Germany must go back to nuclear power if it wants to phase out fossil fuels and achieve its goal of becoming greenhouse gas-neutral in all sectors by 2045, as wind and solar energy will not fully cover demand.

“By phasing out nuclear power, Germany is committing itself to coal and gas because there is never enough wind or sun to shine,” said Rainer Kludt, head of the pro-nuclear non-profit association Nuklearia.

With the end of the nuclear era, Germany must find a permanent repository for about 1,900 pieces of highly radioactive nuclear waste by 2031.

“We still have at least another 60 years ahead of us in terms of disposal and long-term safe storage of the remains,” said Wolfram Koenig, head of the federal Office of Nuclear Waste Management.

The government also acknowledges that there are security concerns as neighbors France and Switzerland still rely heavily on nuclear power.

“Radiation does not stop at borders,” said Inge Paulini, head of Germany’s radiation protection office, noting that seven plants in neighboring countries are less than 100 km (62.14 miles) from Germany.

Reporting by Riham Algousa, additional reporting by Maria Martinez; Editing by Friedrich Heine and Andrew Cawthorne

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Riham Algousa

Thomson Reuters

Riham Algousa is Reuters’ energy and climate change correspondent in Germany, covering the green transition of Europe’s largest economy and Europe’s energy crisis. Algousa is a graduate of Columbia University’s School of Journalism and has 10 years of experience covering Europe’s refugee crisis and the Syrian civil war. Algousa was among two teams to win Reuters Journalist of the Year awards in 2022 for their coverage of Europe’s energy crisis and the war in Ukraine. He won the 2017 Foreign Press Association Award in New York and the White House Correspondents’ Association Fellowship that year.

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