Nfter around six decades, the age of nuclear power plants is coming to an end in Germany. The last Meiler Isar 2 in Bavaria, Emsland in Lower Saxony and Neckarwestheim 2 in Baden-Württemberg should go offline on this Saturday evening. Anti-nuclear power opponents celebrated the historic step during the day with festivals in Berlin and elsewhere.
The environmental organization Greenpeace celebrated the exit from nuclear energy in Berlin. At the Brandenburg Gate, she showed a little red man with a “Nuclear power? No thanks” sign and a sword on top of a replica dinosaur. “German nuclear power” and “Defeated on April 15, 2023!” were written on the dinosaur’s belly.
Demonstrators call for fuel element factory
In Berlin, however, some people also protested against the shutdown of the nuclear power plants on Saturday. The Nuklearia association had announced in an appeal that it wanted to set a positive sign for nuclear power: “We see nuclear power as the best way to maintain our prosperity and at the same time protect nature and the climate.”
In Munich, the Bund Naturschutz and Greenpeace organized a nuclear phase-out party. According to police estimates, around 1,000 participants attended the rally. In Baden-Württemberg, hundreds of opponents of nuclear power celebrated a “switch-off party” in front of the Neckarwestheim kiln.
A few hours before the Emsland nuclear power plant was shut down, opponents of nuclear power in Lingen called for a systematic exit from the nuclear industry in Germany. On Saturday, hundreds of opponents of nuclear power moved from the ANF fuel element factory, which belongs to the French Framatome group, to the nearby nuclear power plant. On the one hand, the demonstrators were happy about the end of the use of nuclear energy – on the other hand, they also called for the end of the fuel element factory in Lingen.
“This is very close to all of us”
For the employees of the Isar 2 reactor, the shutdown is an emotional moment, says the chairman of the Preussenelektra group, Guido Knott: “Today, after 50 years, electricity production from nuclear energy ends at Preussenelektra. This is very close to all of us, and it also affects me personally. ”The group had announced that all employees would receive permanent employment contracts until 2029. After that, the number of employees will be reduced. Around 450 people work at the Essenbach site.
The shutdown of the last nuclear power plant was expected shortly before midnight – it was unclear which of the three reactors would be the last. According to the operator Preussenelektra, the Isar 2 nuclear power plant is expected to go offline around 11:45 p.m. and thus no longer feed in electricity. About a quarter of an hour later, the reactor will be shut down, said plant manager Carsten Müller. “We comply with the Atomic Energy Act by disconnecting the generator from the grid before midnight.”
After shutdown, the reactor will “run cold”. According to Müller, the temperature in the system is reduced to ambient temperature within around twelve hours. About nine hours after the shutdown, steam will no longer be visible above the cooling tower.
Politically, however, the phase-out of nuclear energy in Germany remains controversial. The co-governing FDP called for the last three miles not to be dismantled, but to be kept as a reserve.
“We need every scrap of energy”
Actually, the three nuclear power plants should have been switched off at the end of 2022. The former federal government of CDU/CSU and FDP had already decided to phase out in 2011 in response to the nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan. However, due to the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine and the resulting energy crisis, the traffic light coalition decided in 2022 to let the three nuclear power plants continue to run over the winter and not switch them off until mid-April.
The kiln in Kahl in Bavaria was the first commercial nuclear power plant to go into operation in November 1960 – it has been feeding electricity into the grid since June 1961. Even if the decision to phase out Germany has long been politically sealed, the debate about the pros and cons of nuclear power continues to smolder. Federal Environment Minister Steffi Lemke (Greens) told the German Press Agency that the nuclear phase-out would make Germany safer. “The risks of nuclear power are ultimately unmanageable in the event of an accident.”
Greens leader Ricarda Lang tweeted that the nuclear phase-out meant the “final entry into the age of renewable energies.” The SPD parliamentary group wrote on Twitter: “Nuclear power? And goodbye”.
On the other hand, FDP General Secretary Bijan Djir-Sarai called for this technology not to be completely abandoned. “Nuclear energy must have a future in Germany even after the exit,” he told the German Press Agency in Berlin. “This includes expanding research in the field of nuclear fusion and exploiting the opportunities offered by new and safer nuclear fission technologies.”
Bavaria’s Prime Minister Markus Söder (CSU) said on Friday evening in an interview with the ARD “Tagesthemen” that he believed in a new version of nuclear energy. “We feel this great energy crisis, we need every scrap of energy.”
Hesse’s Prime Minister Boris Rhein (CDU) called for more research into new technologies. “The Ukraine war and the energy crisis show us that we have to position ourselves broadly. In view of the nuclear phase-out, we must promote research that is open to all technologies. Not just get out, but get in,” he told the FAZ
European countries deal with nuclear power in very different ways. In Belgium, the nuclear power plants should be able to continue operating until at least the end of 2035. The Swiss nuclear power plants may be operated as long as they are safe. The construction of new nuclear power plants is prohibited. Spain’s left-wing government plans to shut down all of the country’s nuclear power plants between 2027 and 2035. Italy already phased out nuclear energy after the Chernobyl reactor catastrophe (1986).