Germany closes last nuclear power plants, some scientists appalled


16 April 2023, Baden-Wuerttemberg, Neckarwestheim: The Neckarwestheim nuclear power plant. The era of commercial electricity generation with nuclear power plants in Germany ended on Saturday with the separation of the Isar 2, Neckarwestheim and Emsland nuclear power plants from the electricity grid.

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Since Sunday April 16, Germany no longer produces electricity from nuclear power plants.

Closures of the Emsland, Isar II and Neckarwestheim II nuclear power plants in Germany were expected. The country has announced its intention to get out of nuclear in 2011. In the fall of 2022, with the war in Ukraine limiting access to energy, especially in Europe, Germany decided to keep these existing nuclear reactors running for a few more months to bolster supply.

“It was a long-awaited action. The German government extended the life of these plants by a few months, but never planned beyond that,” David-Victorprofessor of innovation and public policy at UC San Diego, told CNBC.

Responses to the shutdowns ranged from dismay that Germany would shut down a source of clean energy generation as the global response to anthropogenic climate change continues to fall short, to celebration that the country will avoid any nuclear accidents like the ones that are happening. are produced in other parts of the world. world.

“All this is incomprehensible”

A group of esteemed scientists, including two Nobel laureates and professors from MIT and Columbia, issued a last-minute appeal in an open letter posted April 14 on the nuclear advocacy group’s website, RePlaneteersto keep the reactors running.

“Given the threat that climate change poses to the life of our planet and the obvious energy crisis in which Germany and Europe find themselves due to the unavailability of Russian natural gas, we ask you to continue to operate the last remaining German nuclear power plants.”, the letter indicates.

The Emsland, Isar II and Neckarwestheim II facilities supplied electricity to more than 10 million German homes, the open letter states. That’s a quarter of the population.

“This is hugely disappointing when a 24/7 secure low-carbon source of energy such as nuclear was available and could have continued to operate for another 40 years.” , Henry Prestonspokesperson for World Nuclear Association, told CNBC. “Germany’s nuclear industry has been world-class. These three reactors shut down this weekend have performed extremely well.”

16 April 2023, Lower Saxony, Lingen: View of the former cooling tower of the Emsland nuclear power plant. With the separation of the Isar 2, Neckarwestheim and Emsland nuclear power plants from the power grid, the era of commercial electricity generation with nuclear power plants in Germany came to an end on Saturday.

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Despite the shutdown, some segments of nuclear industrial processes will continue to operate. “Germany’s nuclear industry will continue to be first class in the broader nuclear supply chain in areas such as fuel fabrication and decommissioning,” Preston told CNBC.

Although the open letter failed to keep nuclear reactors open, it underscores a crucial reason why nuclear energy has recently been part of global energy conversations, after a generational lull in the construction of nuclear power plants. : climate change.

Producing electricity with nuclear reactors does not create greenhouse gases. And as efforts to respond to global climate change continue to fall short of emissions targets, nuclear power is receiving renewed interest.

“Obviously a lot of people in the nuclear industry are disappointed that the government that cares so much about climate change is shutting down massive sources of carbon-free electric power,” Victor told CNBC.

This point of view was taken up by Hans of Storchclimate researcher at the Coastal Research Institute in Geesthacht, Germany, and a signatory to the open letter, CNBC told CNBC.

“While this is a legitimate decision, it’s not a wise decision,” Storch told CNBC. “This exit from nuclear, together with the existing plants, leads to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions in Germany, even if according to another political decision, rapid decarbonisation should have priority.”

“To me, as a climatologist, this is all incomprehensible,” Storch told CNBC.

Supporters of the anti-nuclear movement gather to celebrate the closure of Germany’s last nuclear power plants on April 15, 2023 in Munich, Germany. Emsland, Neckarwestheim 2 and Isar 2 are the last three operating nuclear power plants in Germany and are scheduled to cease operations this evening. Their closure was originally scheduled for December 31, 2022, although the German government coalition extended their operation due to energy market turmoil resulting from Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine. The closure of the power plants marks a historic chapter in German history and is celebrated by the decades-old popular German anti-nuclear movement.

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Fear of accidents and focus on renewable energies

The German government says it is making the country safer by shutting down nuclear reactors.

“Phasing out of nuclear power makes Germany safer and avoids additional highly radioactive waste. The risks of nuclear power are ultimately unmanageable. No insurance in the world covers the potentially catastrophic extent of damage caused by a nuclear accident,” said a spokesperson for the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Nuclear Safety and Consumer Protection in Germany told CNBC.

On June 30, 2011, “the nuclear phase-out law was passed by a large, nonpartisan majority,” the spokesperson told CNBC.

Volker QuaschningProfessor of Renewable Energy at Hochschule für Technik und Wirtschaft Berlinargues that Germany is shutting down its nuclear reactors because of the risk of an accident.

“Nuclear energy is a risky technology. During the Chernobyl reactor accident, Germany was hit by radioactive fallout. A reactor accident in Germany would render large parts of the country uninhabitable. worlds, the risks for nuclear energy are also increasing,” Quaschning told CNBC.

Additionally, radioactive waste management is “still unresolved in Germany,” Quaschning told CNBC. “No one in Germany wants a high-level radioactive waste repository nearby.”

Instead, the European country says it is focusing on expanding its wind and solar power generation. By 2030, Germany aims to generate 80% of its electricity from renewable energy sources such as wind and solar. “We are now putting the policies in place for this and adapting the necessary legislation,” the German government spokesperson told CNBC.

Shutting down nuclear reactors opens the door for renewables to be the future of energy, Niklas Höhne, Professor of Greenhouse Gas Mitigation To Wageningen University in the Netherlandstold CNBC.

“In the German context, the gradual phase-out of nuclear energy is good for the climate in the long term. It provides investment certainty for renewable energies; renewable energies will be much faster, cheaper and safer than conventional energy. ‘expansion of nuclear power,'” Höhne told CNBC. .

Nuclear power is also often more expensive than wind and solar power, Quaschning said, adding that “there are no real benefits with nuclear power anymore.”

“Nuclear power plants are a brake on the energy transition. They cannot operate in stop-and-go mode and cannot really compensate for the power fluctuations that occur when using solar and wind energy. ‘Germany is looking to develop solar and wind power very quickly over the next few years, now is the time to shut down nuclear reactors to make way for renewables,’ he said.

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