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Germany Quits Nuclear Power, Closing its Last Three Plants

The Gundremmingen Nuclear Power Plant in Germany
The Gundremmingen Nuclear Power Plant in Germany. Credit: Felix König / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Germany has closed its final three nuclear power plants, officially ending the country’s long-standing nuclear energy program that has lasted over 60 years.

The German government’s stance is clear: nuclear power is not environmentally friendly or sustainable. Steffi Lemke, the Federal Minister for the Environment and Consumer Protection, who is also a member of the Green Party, emphasized this in a statement to CNN.

Instead, the country is entering a new era of energy production. Critics of Germany’s nuclear energy policy, however, believe that shutting down a low-carbon energy source is irrational, especially as the impact of the climate crisis worsens.

They argue that it’s essential to keep the existing safe nuclear reactors operating while simultaneously increasing renewable energy sources as quickly as possible.

Leah Stokes, a professor of climate and energy policy at the University of California, Santa Barbara, is one of these critics. She warns that the significant risk is that fossil fuels will replace nuclear energy, leading to an increase in carbon emissions.

This has already been seen in Germany, where the reduction in nuclear energy since the Fukushima disaster has been compensated for by an increase in coal usage, according to a research paper published last year.

30% of energy comes from coal

Germany is heavily dependent on coal for its energy needs. Over 30% of its energy coming from this dirty fossil fuel, and the government’s decision to rely on coal to ensure energy security has sparked controversy.

In January, environmental activists, led by Greta Thunberg, protested against the demolition of the village of Lützerath, which was necessary to mine the coal underneath it. Despite their efforts, the demolition went ahead.

Relying on fossil fuels such as coal is both a climate and health problem, said Leah Stokes.  The air pollution caused by these fuels is responsible for a staggering 8.7 million deaths each year, as revealed by a recent analysis.

Veronika Grimm, a leading economist in Germany, believes that keeping nuclear power plants operational for longer would have allowed for a more extensive switch to renewable energy sources. The growth of renewable energy, she argues, has been slow, and a longer transition period could have helped the country to fully electrify its energy system.

Germany aims to generate 80% electricity from renewable resources

Germany has pledged to shut down its last power plant that uses coal by 2038. The goal is to generate 80% of its electricity from renewable energy sources by the end of this decade.

Representatives from Germany’s renewable energy sector see the closure of coal-fired power plants as an opportunity for further investment in clean energy.

Simone Peter, the president of the German Renewable Energy Federation (BEE), called the phasing out of nuclear energy a significant and long-overdue step towards the renewable energy age.

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