Germany begins nuclear phase-out, shuts down three of six nuclear power plants

Germany’s phase-out of nuclear weapons entered its penultimate phase today, as the country shut down half of its six still-operating nuclear plants, marking the start of an 11-year plan.

Under Germany’s energy conversion policy, the Gundremmingen, Brokdorf and Grohnde nuclear power plants will be decommissioned on December 31, 2021.

The Gundremmingen power plant still produces 10 billion kilowatt-hours of energy annually, although parts of it have already been shut down – enough to power the entire Munich metropolitan area.

The Brokdorf plant was a target of protests by the nuclear power opposition in the 1980s, and would shut down at midnight on New Year’s Eve, much to the disdain of its moderators.

“The past few days have been accompanied by a fair amount of gloom. We have operated the plant for 35 years. We have taken care of it, have kept it at the best technical level, and have always operated it safe,” revealed our Chairman, Guido Knott. From the board of directors of the operating company PreussenElektra.

However, no sadness or remorse was felt by Karsten Heinrichsen, a longtime anti-nuclear activist known as the “Brookdorff rebel”.

“I am cheering quietly but surely because the thing is now closed. That’s not euphoria. Some people ask me if this was a victory. No, it wasn’t, it took too long,” Henriksen said.

By the end of 2022, Germany will have achieved its goal of phasing out nuclear power, set by Chancellor Angela Merkel on May 30, 2011, in the wake of the Fukushima disaster.

The plan represents a radical change of course by Merkel’s ruling Conservative Party, who only a few months ago agreed to extend the life of Germany’s oldest power plants.

But it met with widespread popular support in a country with a strong anti-nuclear movement, fueled first by fears of Cold War conflict and then by disasters such as Chernobyl.

The eight oldest reactors were shut down immediately, and the remaining nine are to follow in phases until 2022.

village church

However, Gundremmingen’s decision was a hard-to-swallow pill.

Gerlind Hutter, the owner of a local guesthouse, said the nuclear power plant was “as part of the village as the church,” and it looked as if “something was dying.”

According to the village’s former mayor, Wolfgang May, it will take at least 50 years to remove all radioactive material from the site after the plant is shut down.

The German government is still searching for a long-term storage site for the country’s remaining nuclear waste.

Gundremmingen is not the only German village facing major changes as the country strives to implement its energy transformation strategy.

Renewable energy has seen an astonishing rise since 2011, and in 2020 it made up more than 50% of Germany’s energy mix for the first time, according to the Fraunhofer Research Institute – compared to less than 25% a decade ago.

Claudia Kimfert, an energy expert at the DIW Economic Research Institute, added that the declining importance of nuclear power (12.5% ​​in 2020) “was offset by the expansion of renewable energies.”

So nuclear power plants have not been replaced by coal, even though fossil fuels still account for nearly a quarter of the electricity mix.

Germany plan to shut down all coal-fired power plants by 2038

In fact, the phase-out of nuclear power was followed by another plan, announced in 2019, to shut down all German coal-fired power plants by 2038.

This presents a particular challenge for Germany, which remains the world’s largest producer of lignite.

Brown coal mining, which is highly polluting, continues to destroy villages in the west of the country in order to expand huge open-pit mines.

If Germany is to free itself from lignite, renewables such as wind, solar, biomass, and hydropower must make up 65% of the energy mix by 2030.

However, the country, which has long been at the forefront of wind power in Europe, installed just 1.65 gigawatts of wind farms last year — the lowest level in a decade, according to advocacy group WindEurope.

According to Kimfert, “To achieve the government’s goals, Germany will have to add 9.8 GW of solar capacity and 5.9 GW of onshore wind annually.”

But developing new areas for wind or photovoltaic power is complicated, with plans often encountering resistance from local residents and the risk of damage to the landscape.

Unless storage and distribution can be improved via so-called virtual power plants, these new forms of energy do not have the same stability as thermal or nuclear power.

To secure its supplies, Germany may be tempted to build more gas-fired power plants, but this would strengthen its dependence on Russia, as evidenced by the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline.

A gas-fired power plant is already in the works for the city of Leipheim, near Gundermingen.

How many plants are left in Germany?

After the closure of the Brokdorf, Gundremmingen and Grohnde nuclear power plants, there are still three plants:

  • Emsland (Lower Saxony)
  • Isar (Bavaria)
  • Neckarwestheim (Baden-Württemberg)

These three remaining power plants are expected to cease operations by the end of next year, to complete the 11-year removal.

However, the complete removal will not end for long, as the post-commissioning and phased dismantling of the plants, under the responsibility of the operators, is expected to take many more years.

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