Germany began a “new era” by withdrawing from nuclear power and closing its last three plants
Germany’s last three nuclear power plants will shut down on Saturday, marking the end of the country’s long nuclear era. more than sixty years.
Nuclear power has long been controversial in Germany.
Those who want to end dependence on technology want to move away from the unsustainable, dangerous and accelerating renewable energy.
But for others, shutting down nuclear power plants is a short-term vision. They see it as cutting off the flow of a reliable source of low-carbon energy at a time when drastic reductions in global-warming pollution are needed.
Even with these debates raging and last-minute calls to keep the plants in line During the energy crisis, the German government was persistent.
“The position of the German government is clear: nuclear power is not green. It’s not sustainable,” Steffi Lemke, Germany’s federal minister for the environment and consumer protection and a member of the Green Party, told CNN.
“We are entering a new era of energy production,” he said.
The closure of the three plants – Emsland, Isar 2 and Neckarwestheim – is the culmination of a plan that began more than 20 years ago. But its roots are even older.
In the 1970s, a strong anti-nuclear movement emerged in Germany. Various groups have come together to protest the new power plants, citing the dangers posed by the technology and, for some, nuclear weapons. The movement gave birth to the Green Party, which is currently part of the governing coalition.
Nuclear disasters have sparked protests: the 1979 partial meltdown of the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania, and the 1986 Chernobyl disaster that sent a cloud of radioactive waste reaching parts of Germany.
In 2000, the German government promised to begin phasing out nuclear power and closing power plants. But when a new government came to power in 2009, it briefly looked like nuclear power would get a break as a transition technology to help the country transition to renewables.
Then there was Fukushima.
In March 2011, an earthquake and tsunami melted down three reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant. Miranda Schreurs, a professor of environmental policy and climate change at the Technical University of Munich, said that for many people in Germany, Japan’s worst nuclear disaster “was confirmation that a large-scale nuclear disaster is impossible.”
Three days later, Chancellor Angela Merkel – a former pro-nuclear physicist – delivered a speech described as an “unthinkable disaster for Japan” and a “turning point” for the world. He announced that Germany would accelerate its transition away from nuclear power by immediately shutting down old power plants.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was another story.
Germany is worried about its energy security without Russian gas The government has delayed plans to close the last three plants until December 2022. Some have called for a reconsideration of the issue.
But the government refused, agreeing to detain them until April 15.
For those in the anti-nuclear movement, this is a moment of victory.
“This is a great achievement for the millions of people in Germany and around the world who have protested against nuclear power for decades,” Greenpeace spokesperson Paul-Marie Magnier told CNN.
For critics of German policy, shutting down a low-carbon energy source as the effects of the climate crisis worsen is absurd.
Leah Stokes, a professor of climate and energy policy at the University of California, Santa Barbara, told CNN: “We need to keep existing, safe nuclear reactors operating while expanding renewables as quickly as possible.”
The big danger, he says, is that fossil fuels fill the energy gap the power of nuclear energy has been abolished. According to a study published last year, reductions in nuclear power in Germany since Fukushima have largely been offset by increases in coal.
Germany plans to switch about 6% of the electricity generated by its three nuclear power plants to renewable energy, along with gas and coal.
More than 30% of Germany’s energy comes from coal, the dirtiest form of fossil fuel, and the government has made controversial decisions to turn to coal to ensure energy security.
In January, protesters including Greta Thunberg gathered in the West German village of Lutzerat in a failed attempt to prevent it from being demolished to extract the coal underneath.
“Building new coal power is the opposite of what we need,” Stokes said. Fossil fuels are a climate problem, but they also pose health risks, he said. According to a recent analysis, air pollution from fossil fuels causes 8.7 million deaths per year.
Veronika Grimm, one of Germany’s leading economists, told CNN that keeping nuclear power plants running longer would give Germany more time for “intensive electrification,” especially since the growth of renewables is “slow.”
But advocates of ending nuclear power say it will ultimately accelerate the demise of fossil fuels.
Germany has pledged to close its last coal-fired power plant by 2038, with some regions closing by 2030. It aims to obtain 80% of its electricity from renewable energy sources by the end of this decade.
As more coal was added in the months after Fukushima, Schreurs said, the nuclear shutdowns gave a big boost to clean energy. “This is urgent and this demand may be necessary to drive the growth of renewable energy,” he said.
Representatives of Germany’s renewable energy industry said the shutdown would pave the way for more investment in clean energy.
“Germany’s nuclear phase-out is a historic event and a late step from an energy perspective,” Simon Peter, president of the German Renewable Energy Federation (BEE), told CNN. “It is time to leave the nuclear age behind and systematically organize for the renewable age.”
The impact of nuclear energy should not be overlooked, Schreurs said, noting the carbon pollution caused by uranium mining, as well as the health risks to miners. Moreover, it creates dependence on Russia, which supplies nuclear power plants with uranium, he added.
Nuclear power has also proven to be vulnerable to the climate crisis. France was forced to cut nuclear power production last year after rivers used to cool reactors overheated during Europe’s heatwave.
Germany must now figure out what to do with the deadly highly radioactive waste that will remain dangerous for hundreds of thousands of years.
Currently, nuclear waste is temporarily stored near nuclear power plants that are being dismantled. But the search continues for a permanent location where the remains can be safely stored for a million years.
The site must be deep – hundreds of meters underground. Only certain rocks: crystalline granite, rock salt, or claystone. It should not be geologically stable, prone to earthquakes, or have signs of underground rivers.
The process can be arduous, complex, and astonishingly long—taking more than 100 years.
BGE, the federal radioactive waste disposal company, estimates that the final site will only be selected between 2046 and 2064. It will then take decades more to build the vault, fill it with waste and seal it. .
Many other countries are following similar paths to Germany. Denmark passed a resolution not to build nuclear power plants in the 1980s, Switzerland voted to end nuclear power in 2017, Italy closed its last reactors in 1990, and Austria’s only nuclear power plant has never been used.
But amid the war in Ukraine, rising energy prices and pressure to reduce carbon pollution, others still prefer nuclear weapons.
Britain, which is building a nuclear power plant, recently said in its climate strategy that nuclear power has a “crucial” role in “creating safe, affordable and clean energy”.
France, which gets about 70% of its electricity from nuclear power, is planning six new reactors, while Finland opened a new nuclear plant last year. Even Japan, still struggling with the effects of the Fukushima disaster, is considering restarting reactors.
The United States, the world’s largest nuclear power, is also investing in nuclear power, and in March a new nuclear reactor, Vogtle 3, went live in Georgia – the first in years.
But experts believe that this does not mean the beginning of nuclear construction. Vogtle 3 has arrived online six years behind schedule and costing $30 billion, double the original budget.
This sums up the big problem facing the entire nuclear industry: integration economics. New plants are expensive and can take more than a decade to build. “Even countries that support nuclear energy face great difficulties in developing nuclear power,” Schreurs said.
Many nuclear power plants in Europe, USA and other countries are getting old – the service life of the plants is about 40-60 years. As Germany ends its nuclear age, it’s an important time for others, Schreurs said.
“It’s time to decide whether nuclear power really has a future.”
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