Germany shuts down half of its remaining nuclear power plants

By Frank Jordans | Associated press

BERLIN – Germany on Friday shut down half of the six nuclear power plants it still has in operation, a year before the country draws the final curtain on its decades-long use of atomic energy.

The decision to phase out nuclear and switch from fossil fuels to renewable energies was first taken by the center-left government of Gerhard Schroeder in 2002.

His successor, Angela Merkel, reversed his decision to extend the life of German nuclear power plants following the Fukushima disaster in Japan in 2011 and set 2022 as the final deadline for their closure.

The three currently closed reactors were first powered up in the mid-1980s. Together, they have supplied electricity to millions of German homes for nearly four decades.

One of the factories – Brokdorf, located about 40 kilometers (25 miles) northwest of Hamburg on the Elbe – became a particular hotbed of anti-nuclear protests fueled by the 1986 Chernobyl disaster in the Soviet Union.

The other two factories are Grohnde, about 40 kilometers south of Hanover, and Grundremmingen, 80 kilometers west of Munich.

Some in Germany have called for the decision to end the use of nuclear power to be reconsidered because plants already in operation produce relatively little carbon dioxide. Proponents of atomic energy argue that it can help Germany meet its climate targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

But the German government said this week that decommissioning all nuclear power plants next year and then phasing out coal use by 2030 would not affect the country’s energy security or its goal of rendering Europe’s largest ‘climate neutral’ economy by 2045.

“By massively increasing renewable energies and accelerating the expansion of the electricity grid, we can show that this is possible in Germany,” said Economy and Climate Minister Robert Habeck.

Several of Germany’s neighbors have already ended nuclear power or announced plans to do so, but others are sticking to the technology. This has raised concerns about a nuclear disruption in Europe, with France considering building new reactors and Germany opting for natural gas as a “bridge” until enough renewable energy is available, and both parties arguing that their preferred energy source should be considered sustainable.

The three remaining German nuclear power plants – Emsland, Isar and Neckarwestheim – will be shut down by the end of 2022.

While some jobs will be lost, utility company RWE said more than two-thirds of the 600 workers at its Gundremmingen nuclear power plant will continue to be involved in post-shutdown operations until the 2030s. German nuclear power plants will receive nearly $ 3 billion for the early shutdown of their plants.

Environment Minister Steffi Lemke rejected suggestions that a new generation of nuclear power plants could prompt Germany to change course again.

“Nuclear power plants remain high-risk facilities that produce highly radioactive atomic waste,” she told media group Funke this week.

A final decision has yet to be made on where to store tens of thousands of tonnes of nuclear waste produced in German power plants. Experts say some material will remain dangerously radioactive for 35,000 generations.

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