Germany will close down its three remaining nuclear plants on Saturday, in a bid to realize their green energy ambitions without nuclear power even when the country is dealing with an energy crisis brought about by the Ukraine war.
The nuclear power plants have been producing white steam since 1989 over the river in Neckarwertheim, close to Stuttgart, but will no longer be able to do now due to theh decision which will see the Isar 2 complex in Bavaria, and the Emlsand plant in the north shutting down.
While the Western countries are boosting nuclear power to develop green energy sources, Europe’s largest economy is determined to go ahead with its plans despite some disagreement.
Germany was seeking to shut down its nuclear power since 2022, but it was the former chancellor Angela Merkel who took the call in 2011 after the Fukushima disaster in Japan. Merkel said, at the time, Fukushima was proof that “even in a high-tech country like Japan, the risks of nuclear energy cannot be safely controlled.”
In a country where anti-nuclear movements were rising due to the Cold War conflict and the Chernobyl disaster, a no-nuclear power plant policy became popular. But the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 became a roadblock in the plans and cut supplies of cheap Russian gas and led the country into an energy crisis.
Public opinion began to alter a few months before Germany’s remaining plants were to shut down on December 31, 2022. Jochen Winkler, the mayor of Neckarwestheim, said, “With high energy prices and the hot topic of climate change, there have of course been calls to extend the power plants.”
Later, the government of Chancellor Olaf Scholz, consisting of the vicious anti-nuclear Greens, decided to shut the plants on April 15.
Winkler said, “There might have been a new discussion if the winter had been more difficult if there had been power cuts and gas shortages. But we had a winter without too many problems” owing to the liquefied natural gas (LNG) imports.
Neckarwestheim is home to 4,000 inhabitants, with over 150 of them working at the plant, but Winkler is said to be rational about the decision. “The wheel has already been turned too far” and there is no scope of “going backward” and undoing the process, he said.
Since 2003, 16 reactors have been turned off in Germany.
The three remaining plants contributed six percent of Germany’s energy in 2022, whereas 30.8 percent of energy was from all nuclear plants in 1997.
Also, last year, Germany produced 46 percent of its energy from renewables, which was lower than 25 percent 10 years ago. Meanwhile, the current rate of progress on renewables is insufficient to meet Germany’s goal, which upset the environmental campaigners.
An energy specialist at the Bruegel think tank in Brussels, Georg Zachmann, said that these requirements “are already ambitious without the nuclear phase-out — and every time we deprive ourselves of a technological option, we make things more difficult.”
This situation can potentially worsen as all the coal-fired power plants will be shut down in the country by 2038, with the first wave of closures in 2030.
Coal produces a portion of electricity to power Germany, with an increment of eight percent in 2022 that led to Russia’s loss of gas after Moscow cut off supplies due to Western sanctions caused by Ukraine’s invasion.
The country requires to set up “four to five wind turbines a day” in the next few years to fulfill what it needs, Scholz stated that a huge order to install 551 turbines was given in 2022.
According to the Agora Energiewende think tank, Germany needs more than double the amount of photovoltaic equipment to set up. A series of regulatory measures were taken up in the last few months to accelerate the planning process.
According to the industry association BWE, a wind power project averagely requires four to five years for planning and approval. Even to cut it short by one or two years is “a considerable step forward”, it said.