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Has Germany’s Era Of Nuclear Energy Come To An End?

Germany took its last three nuclear power plants offline on Saturday, ending more than six decades of commercial nuclear energy use.

The power plants Emsland in Niedersachsen, Isar-2 in Bavaria, and Neckwarestheim-2 in Baden-Württemberg were taken off the grid this weekend despite rising public support for nuclear power generation in recent months.

Germany ended the nuclear power era despite continued concerns about energy security and energy supply after the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the end of pipeline natural gas deliveries from Russia, which was the largest gas supplier to Europe’s biggest economy before the war.

The end of nuclear energy in Germany wasn’t without controversy. Last year, politicians reopened the debate about the nuclear phase-out—decided after the 2011 Fukushima disaster—while recent polls found that the majority of Germans opposed the imminent closure of all remaining nuclear power plants amid concerns about rising energy bills.

After Fukushima, Germany vowed to phase out its nuclear power reactors by the end of 2022. The current government only extended the deadline by just over three months to ensure electricity supply this past winter, the first without Russian pipeline gas.

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Despite calls from conservative parties and growing public support for keeping nuclear reactors operational, at least for a limited period of time, the government followed through with the pledge to end nuclear power generation in Germany.

A poll for public broadcaster ARD showed last week that the majority of Germans disapprove of the government’s nuclear phase-out. According to the survey, 59% of Germans think that the decision to phase out nuclear energy is wrong, while just over a third, or 34%, believe the phase-out was the right thing to do. Younger people are more likely to approve of the nuclear phase-out, the survey showed. A total of 66% of the Germans opposing the nuclear phase-out are concerned about soaring energy prices because of that decision.

Last week, Robert Habeck, Germany’s Federal Minister for Economic Affairs and Climate Action, said that the nuclear phase-out is irreversible despite the resistance to end nuclear power generation.

A YouGov poll for German news agency DPA showed last week that 65% of Germans are in favor of keeping the three remaining nuclear power plants operating for the time being, business daily Handelsblatt reported. Only 26% of respondents supported shutting down the plants now.

The government assured the public that Germany’s energy security is not at risk after the closure of the nuclear reactors.

“Germany’s energy security is and continues to be ensured; it remains very high compared with the situation in other countries around the world,” Habeck said.

Germany has built new LNG import terminals, taken steps to boost grids, and is currently putting in place policies to have 80% of its electricity supply met by renewable energy by 2030, Habeck added.

“In 2030, we want to generate 80 percent of our electricity from renewable energy. We are now putting the policies in place for this and adapting the necessary legislation,” the minister said.

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Germany has built several floating LNG import terminals. It plans to have as much as 70.7 million tons per year of LNG import capacity by 2030, which will make it the fourth-largest LNG import capacity holder in the world.

Germany may end up using less LNG import capacity than it has planned to roll out this decade, but better safe than sorry, the chief executive of the top German utility, RWE, said last month.

“It may be the case that the LNG terminals are not fully utilized. But you need them as an insurance premium,” RWE’s CEO Markus Krebber said in an interview with German business magazines Der Stern and Capital.

As far as renewable energy is concerned, the share of renewables in Germany’s electricity generation grew in 2022 to 46.3% from 42.3% in 2021, figures from Germany’s Federal Statistical Office showed last month. But the share of coal-fired power generation also rose, and coal was again the single-largest source of electricity production, as was in previous years, followed by wind power generation, whose share also grew. Photovoltaic energy generation also increased and accounted for 10.6% of Germany’s power output last year, up from 8.7% in 2021.

Germany now needs an even faster expansion of renewables to meet its energy needs and replace the lost nuclear energy generation.

By Tsvetana Paraskova for

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