Germany is closing down three of its six nuclear power plants today. The other three are also due to close next year. From then on, Germany will no longer produce nuclear energy. The planned closure comes in the midst of the energy crisis that is gripping Europe and putting relations with Russia on edge.
Germany had already promised years ago that it would gradually reduce its nuclear capacity. The protests following the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011 led former Chancellor Angela Merkel to actually decide to abolish nuclear power. Germany also wants to close the three other nuclear power plants in Neckarwestheim, Essenbach and Emsland by the end of 2022.
The closure of the power plants in Brokdorf, Grohnde and Gundremmingen could increase the pressure on the energy market: Nuclear capacity in Germany is halved and energy production is reduced by about 4 gigawatts. This corresponds to the capacity of about 1000 wind turbines.
With energy prices soaring in Europe, timing does not appear to be favorable. The price of a megawatt-hour gas on the Dutch futures market rose earlier this month to 188 euros per megawatt-hour. That made gas ten times more expensive than at the beginning of the year. Then prices fell again, but they remained high. Electricity prices have also risen markedly.
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Prices are driven by geopolitical tensions with Russia, which supplies a third of Europe’s gas. Western countries accuse Russia of limiting gas supplies to put pressure on Europe amid tensions over the conflict in Ukraine. Moscow also wants the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline to be used quickly to transport more gas from Russia to Germany.
Depends on Russian gas
The end of nuclear power in Germany is likely to push energy prices further, experts say. In addition, Germany may become even more dependent on Russian gas in the short term. Probably because renewable energy development projects have been delayed and Germany may therefore have to resort to fossil energy.
Some Germans have therefore called for the decision to close nuclear power plants to be reconsidered in order to meet the climate targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. However, the German government has said that shutting down all nuclear power plants and phasing out the use of coal by 2030 will not affect energy security or the ambition to be climate neutral by 2045.
“By greatly increasing the use of renewable energy sources and accelerating the expansion of the electricity grid, we can show that this is possible in Germany,” said Minister of Economic Affairs and Climate Robert Habeck.
Campaign for nuclear energy as a sustainable source
Other EU countries, including the Netherlands and France, see a future in nuclear energy. It also campaigns to include nuclear energy in the EU’s list of eligible energy sources. In Germany, too, public opinion on nuclear energy seems to be softening.
The three reactors now shut down started in the mid-1980s. They have run millions of German households for almost four decades.
It has not yet been decided where the tens of thousands of tonnes of nuclear waste from Germany’s nuclear power plants will be stored. Experts say some of the material could continue to emit dangerous amounts of radiation for up to 35,000 generations.
In Germany, two cooling towers at an old nuclear power plant were destroyed last year:
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