The German policy of Energiewende, the shift away from nuclear energy in favor of renewables, is failing the tests of climate, economy, ecology and public health.
Since the closedown of the nuclear reactor Philippsburg 2 on 31 December 2019, Germany now has only six nuclear power plants, down from 17 in 2011. Over a third of its electricity comes from coal, the majority of that from lignite. The resulting increase in air pollution is costing $8.7 billion a year and 1,100 yearly deaths from respiratory or cardiovascular illnesses. And the reactor closures have resulted in an increase of 36 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year. Germany will not reach its Paris Agreement goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The last atomic energy plants are due to be shut by the end of 2022. Some business leaders and politicians are asking for the policy to be reconsidered. However, Chancellor Angela Merkel remains adamant: Germany will continue with the planned nuclear phaseout.
German Opinion and Politics
German support for nuclear energy was strong in the 1970s. But after the Chernobyl accident in 1986, Germany decided to abandon nuclear power. In May 2011, following the Fukushima accident, the Reactor Safety Commission reported that all German reactors were basically sound and safe, but the government decided to revive the phase-out plan and close all reactors by 2022.
More than a third of Germany's electricity is still produced by burning coal - mostly brown lignite, a high emitter of CO2. Lignite mining has destroyed 90% of the iconic Hambacher forest. The government says it will shut down coal power plants by 2038.
The price of electricity for German households rose sharply since Energiewende. In 2016 the price for private households was more than 90% above the average level of 2000.
The German association Nuklearia and the Polish environmental organisation FOTA4Climate organized a protest rally at the Philippsburg nuclear power plant on the Sunday before the shut-down. "Replacing low-CO2 nuclear power plants with low-CO2 renewable energies will do absolutely nothing for climate protection," Simeon Preuß, a physics teacher, observed.
“If our last seven nuclear power plants continue to operate, we could replace around two-thirds of our lignite by the end of 2022... Nuclear energy supplies low CO2 electricity around the clock. Sun and wind cannot do that. Therefore, CO2-intensive coal and gas power plants have to step in.”
In an Open Letter, the Polish group wrote:
As established by hundreds of scientists in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, only rapid and effective phase out of fossil fuels gives us a chance to keep global temperature increase below or only slightly over 1.5°C. As of today, this is necessary to ensure an acceptable future for billions of people.
That is why we appeal to you [the German government and German citizens] to reconsider your decision to end the use of nuclear power in Germany or to delay it until you have completely phased out the use of fossil fuels in the power industry and implemented effective, state-of-the-art technologies for the storage of power generated by renewables. This would accelerate the decarbonisation processes, serving as an example and giving hope to other countries on our planet, which will be making decisions on the future of their power systems and on their role in preventing climate change and degradation of the biosphere.
The decisions you make today will be extremely important. Germany is a global policy leader and an economic powerhouse, a country which provides guidance in the struggle to halt the warming of the Earth’s climate.