The German government announced on May 30 that Germany’s 17 nuclear power stations would all be permanently shut down by 2022.
Germany’s seven oldest nuclear power stations ― temporarily switched off after public outcry following the Fukushima disaster ― will remain off-line and be permanently decommissioned. An eighth was already off line, and will stay so.
Six of the remaining nine stations will be shut down in 2021 and the final three will be turned off in 2022.
The announcement has been greeted with critical support from anti-nuclear and environmental organisations such as Greenpeace, which calls for the full phase out of nuclear power by 2015.
In 2001, the then-coalition government of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the German Greens passed legislation to phase out nuclear power by the end of 2021.
In October 2010, however, the conservative coalition government headed by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) reversed the policy ― extending Germany’s reliance on nuclear energy until at least 2036.
This decision caused a widespread outcry.
Huge protests were held across Germany. On October 9, 55,000 took to the streets in Munich. On November 6, 50,000 protesters blockaded a train carrying 123 tons of highly radioactive waste near the small north German town of Gorleben.
Merkel refused to budge, despite opinion polls showing more than 80% opposition to nuclear energy.
Germany is still suffering the effects of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, which spewed radioactive material across Europe. There have also been three small-scale nuclear accidents in Germany.
After the Fukushima disaster, and anti-nuclear protests again broke out across the country.
On March 12, omore than 60,000 anti-nuclear activists formed a 45 kilometre human chain stretching from Stuttgart to the Neckarwestheim I nuclear reactor on the French border.
In the lead up to state elections in the conservative southern state of Baden-Wuerttemburg, Merkel announced the temporary closure of the seven oldest nuclear power stations for safety checks.
The tactic failed. On March 27, Merkel’s CDU lost control of that wealthy state for the first time since 1954.
The day before, more than 250,000 people marched across the country in Germany’s largest-ever anti-nuclear protests.
In Baden-Wuerttemburg, the Greens and SPD, buoyant in the polls after months of campaigning for an end to nuclear power, formed a coalition government.
For the first time ever, the Greens ― formed in the late 1970s out of the anti-nuclear movement ― were senior partners in a state government. The new premier, Winfried Kretschmann, was a founding member of the Greens.
Merkel still didn’t shift on nuclear power. It took another demolition of the CDU ― in the May 20 state elections in Bremen ― before she moved.
Phasing out nuclear power poses a particular challenge for Germany. As Europe’s economic powerhouse and one of the world’s largest economies, it will need to rapidly replace the 23% of energy now supplied by nuclear power.
There have been fears expressed that the German government will simply replace locally-generated nuclear power with nuclear power imported from France or Poland.
Climate activists are also worried that the shortfall will be made up by an increase in the production of energy from coal at a time when climate change is reaching a critical tipping point.
The German government has announced it will increase energy generation from renewable sources (primarily wind and solar) from 17% to 35% over the next decade.
It has also announced plans to reduce energy consumption by increasing efficiency, particularly in housing, and to cut its carbon emissions by 40% by 2020.
Germany’s announcement is the latest in a series of anti-nuclear moves within the European Union.
Switzerland, which relies on nuclear power for 40% of its energy, recently said it would phase out the the country’s five ageing nuclear plants between 2019 and 2034.
On May 25, eight European countries ― Austria, Greece, Ireland, Latvia, Lichtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta and Portugal ― formed an anti-nuclear alliance.
They called for a rapid transition from nuclear power and fossil fuels to renewable energy to combat climate change.