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Germany abandons nuclear power

The last three active nuclear reactors were shut down in Germany on Saturday, April 15. The three reactors are those of Emsland, in the northern state of Lower Saxony, Neckarwestheim, in Baden-Württemberg, and the Isar 2 plant, in Bavaria.


The closed reactors contributed to 6.5% of Germany's energy needs.


The reactors should have been closed in 2022, but as a result of the energy crisis caused by the invasion of the Russian Federation against Ukraine, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz decided to delay their closure to April 15, 2023.



Germany was heavily dependent on gas imports from Russia, from which as of 2020 it imported 46% of its gas. German energy policy has been conditioned over the years by the policy of rapprochement with the Soviet Union decided in the 1970s by the social democratic chancellor Willy Brandt, the so-called Ostpolitik.


Over the years, the United States has strongly criticized Germany's reliance on gas imports from Russia, especially the construction of the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, which never came online due to the onset of the conflict that started on February 24 of last year.


However, the closure of the reactors is causing great controversy. The debate regarding the use of nuclear energy in Germany is still open.


Last year, the International Energy Agency, IEA, recommended the use of nuclear energy to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and to achieve the goals set in the Paris climate deals.



In 2022, coal was the leading source of electricity generation in Germany, accounting for 30%, followed by wind at 22%, gas at 13%, and solar at 10%. The remaining part of the production was guaranteed by biomass, hydroelectricity, and nuclear power. According to critics of the Scholz government's decision, the closure of the three reactors will only cause an increase in energy production deriving from the combustion of coal.



Germany’s energy mix over the last 20 years (Chart by Clean Energy Wire)


The movement against nuclear energy has been very active in Germany since the 1970s, when it found new life following the nuclear disasters of Three Mile Island in the United States, in 1979, and Chernobyl in Ukraine, in 1986.


In 2002, the government of the Social Democrat Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, from the same party as the current Chancellor Scholz, decided to close all nuclear power plants in the country by 2022. During the government of the Christian Democrat Angela Merkel, however, it was decided to postpone the closure of the nuclear reactors to 2036.



The nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Dai-Chi plant in Japan in 2011, one of the most serious in history after Chernobyl, caused huge protests against Chancellor Merkel's decision and led her to return to Schröder's decommissioning plan.



Anti-nuclear protesters in front of the Chancellery in Berlin in 2011. (Sean Gallup/ Getty Images)


The Russian war against Ukraine caused further controversy because to deal with the ongoing energy crisis the German government had to reopen some highly polluting coal-fired power plants.


Environmental activist Greta Thunberg called the decision of German nuclear power plants "a bad idea" if this led to greater use of electricity produced by burning coal.


The feeling of German citizens towards nuclear energy has changed dramatically in the last two decades. According to a recent poll conducted by the YouGov institute, only 25% of German citizens approve of the government's decision to decommission the three nuclear reactors. About a third would have preferred a further extension of the reactors' lifetime, while another third would have liked them to remain active indefinitely.


According to YouGov's poll, even a section of Green Party voters is not in favor of decommissioning nuclear reactors. Only 56% approve of the government's decision.



Scientists and Nobel laureates sent an open letter to Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Thursday asking him to reevaluate his decision. According to the signatories, nuclear energy is a viable alternative to other more polluting energy sources on which Germany is still forced to rely upon.


Edited by: Ritaja Kar

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