Germany will disconnect its last three nuclear power plants at midnight this Saturday, thus finally executing the final atomic blackout and ending an entire era in this country. The shutdown was scheduled for December 2022, but the energy emergency caused by the Russian gas cut in the context of the war in Ukraine led Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s coalition government of social democrats, environmentalists and liberals to postpone the blackout until 15 April 2023, to ensure electricity supply during the winter.
The three reserve power plants, Isar 2 (Bavaria), Emsland (Lower Saxony) and Neckarwestheim 2 (Baden-Württemberg), will stop working forever just before midnight, but the social consensus on the progressive abandonment of nuclear energy since The fact that Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition government of conservatives and liberals made this decision in 2011 has diminished in the current situation of energy concern. The 2011 decision came amid general fear after the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
The Greens plan
The coalition government wants to generate 80% of the electricity consumed in the country with renewable sources by 2030
Now, the majority of Germans (59%) are against saying goodbye to atomic energy, compared to 34% who consider it correct to take this step, according to the barometer of the demographic institute infratest dimap for public television ARD revealed this week. Twelve years ago, in June 2011, 54% supported the quick decision to phase out nuclear power, compared to 43% who thought otherwise. The current doubts derive from the fact that goodbye comes when the price of energy is the main headache for the political class and the citizen.
The Scholz government maintains that electricity supply is guaranteed thanks to high levels of gas storage, new liquefied gas terminals on the coast and the expansion of renewable energy. In a joint statement last Thursday, the Ministries of Economy and Climate and of the Environment, both in the hands of the Greens, stressed that Germany “puts an end to the era of nuclear energy” with the final execution of the decision taken in the 2011.
“The security of energy supply in Germany is and will continue to be guaranteed; If an international comparison is made, it continues to be very high”, declared the Minister of Economy and Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck. The plan championed by the Greens within the Coalition Executive is to generate 80% of the electricity consumed in the country with renewable sources by 2030, before reaching total climate neutrality in 2045.
But nuclear power advocates say Germany will not be able to go nuclear if it wants to phase out fossil fuels and achieve its goal of greenhouse gas neutrality in all sectors by 2045, because, they say, wind power and solar will not fully cover the demand.
public television poll
Support for the decision has waned due to the energy crisis: 59% of Germans are now against saying goodbye to atomic energy, compared to 34% who consider it right to take this step
Throughout the year 2022, the last three active atomic power plants accounted for barely 6.4% of total electricity consumption in Germany, when the previous year that percentage had been 12.6%, according to data from the Federal Statistical Office ( Destatis). The Government’s goal is for renewables to contribute 80% of consumption by 2030. For comparison, last year it stood at 46.3%.
The Minister of the Environment, the environmentalist Steffi Lemke, claimed responsibility for the nuclear blackout on Saturday in a video on social networks. Lemke recalled that “the decision was made by consensus in the Bundestag (lower house of the German Parliament) and by various governments. It is a good and wise decision because it makes our country safer.” The minister admitted that the task of definitively storing the highly radioactive waste accumulated after six decades of civil use of nuclear energy remains pending.
During the 60 years in which Germany has used nuclear energy for commercial uses, some 27,000 cubic meters of highly radioactive waste have been generated, while the reactors are also responsible for a large part of the 300,000 cubic meters of medium and low radioactivity waste. , according to the joint statement of the Ministries of Economy and Climate and Environment.
Highly radioactive waste must be able to be stored in a geological formation suitable for this purpose, which must be selected through transparent and science-based mechanisms. “At least another 60 years lie ahead, which we will need for the dismantling and long-term safe storage of the remains,” said Wolfram Koenig, head of the Federal Office for the Safety of Nuclear Waste Management.
Each transport of waste to the temporary storage facility in Gorleben (Lower Saxony) – where around half of the waste accumulated in 65 years is found – has generated pitched battles between protesters and riot police. The rest of the waste is stored in already dismantled nuclear plants. By the year 2031, the construction of the atomic cemetery that Minister Lemke is talking about must have been agreed upon, which should be ready by 2050.
The energy crisis reactivated the social and political debate on the disconnection of the last active nuclear power plants, and put pressure on the coalition government, with Social Democrats and Greens in favor of the closure and Liberals insisting on a new extension. The conservative opposition considers that it is “a black day for Germany.”
Voters think similarly. According to the ARD public television poll, only voters for the Greens (82%) and the Social Democrat SPD (56%) are in favor of the blackout. The vast majority of supporters of the Christian Democratic CDU and the Bavarian Social Christian CSU (83%) and the far-right AfD (81%) oppose it. Also the voters of the liberals of the FDP show themselves in their majority (65%) against the abandonment of nuclear energy.