Germany shuts down half of its 6 remaining nuclear plants

BERLIN (Reuters) – Germany on Friday shut down half of its six still operating nuclear plants, a year before the country opens the final curtain on its decades-old use of atomic energy.

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

His successor, Angela Merkel, has reversed her decision to extend the life of German nuclear plants in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan and set 2022 as a deadline for their closures.

The three reactors that are now closed were first commissioned in the mid-1980s. Together, they have provided electricity to millions of German homes for nearly four decades.

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

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

Some in Germany have called for a reconsideration of the decision to end the use of nuclear power because already operating power plants produce relatively little carbon dioxide. Advocates of atomic energy argue that it can help Germany achieve its climate goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

But the German government said this week that shutting down all nuclear plants next year and then stopping coal use by 2030 would not affect the country’s energy security or its goal of making Europe’s largest economy “climate neutral” by 2045.

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

Many of Germany’s neighbors have already ended nuclear power or announced plans to do so, but others remain committed to the technology. This has raised fears of a nuclear rift in Europe, where France plans to build new reactors and Germany has chosen natural gas as a “bridge” until enough renewable energy is available, and both sides argue that their preferred source of energy is classed as sustainable.

The three remaining nuclear plants in Germany – Emsland, Isar and Neckarwestheim – will be decommissioned by the end of 2022.

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

Environment Minister Stevie Lemke has 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 the Funke media group this week.

No final decision has been made on where to store tens of thousands of tons of nuclear waste produced at German power plants. Experts say some materials will remain dangerously radioactive for 35,000 generations.

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