Germany to shut 17 nuclear reactors by 2022

Germany to shut 17 nuclear reactors by 2022

The dramatic about-turn in Germany's nuclear policy makes it the first major industrialised nation to abandon nuclear power completely in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan three months ago. It also comes after several months of protest demonstrations and heated debates over the nuclear issue, which deeply divided the nation.

Under the present law on extending the life span of the reactors, which came into force at the beginning of this year, seven oldest reactors were to remain in operation for eight more years, but some of the youngest and modern reactors would have generated electricity at least until mid-2035. The government had imposed a six-month moratorium on that law and shut down temporarily eight older reactors shortly after a powerful earthquake and tsunami struck the Fukushima nuclear complex on March 11.

A new legislation on a step by step phasing out of all reactors latest by 2022 and parallel development of renewable energy to increase its share in the energy mix up to 35 per cent by 2020 was passed by the cabinet, a week after Chancellor Angela Merkel's centre-right coalition agreed on its new energy policy.

The new bill, which will replace the existing law, is expected to have a smooth passage in parliament especially because the nuclear exit plan is astonishingly very similar to a plan by a former coalition government of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the anti-atom Green party a decade ago to phase out all reactors by 2020.

Chancellor Merkel had called for a re-thinking in Germany's nuclear policy following the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Her coalition government has been under mounting pressure to change its nuclear policy after Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its coalition partner Free Democratic Party (FDP) suffered crushing defeats in a series of key state elections since the beginning of this year while the Green party made remarkable gains.

The government's decision to give up nuclear energy completely by 2022 is "irreversible" and "without any reservation and revision," Environment Minister Norbert Roetgen said. The government succeeded in achieving a "broad-based consensus on an issue which divided the nation for decades," he said.

Under the government's new nuclear policy, eight reactors which were closed for a security check soon after the Fukushima disaster, will be shut down permanently. However, there is an option to keep one reactor on a "stand-by" till 2013 to meet electricity needs if there will be a power shortage during the winter months, he said.

Out of the remaining nine reactors, one each will be closed down in 2015, 2017 and 2019, three in 2021 and last three in 2022. Parallel to the phasing out of the reactors, development of renewable energy will be stepped up so that it will have at least a 35 per cent share in the country's electricity consumption by 2020, Economics Minister Philipp Roesler said.

The government also plans to invest heavily in building up modern high-tension transmission lines needed to transport electricity generated by wind parks, solar power stations and other renewable energy sources in northern Germany to the south where most of the reactors will be shut down during the next eleven years.

In order to speed up the construction of modern transmissions lines, the government plans to get them ready within the next four years, instead of ten years envisaged earlier, Roesler said.

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