No More Nuclear Energy for Germany After 2022

No More Nuclear Energy for Germany After 2022

Image CC licensed by Flickr user bagalute

Angela Merkel says all 17 nuclear reactors will close over next 10 years, confirming u-turn prompted by Fukushima disaster

Chancellor Angela Merkel has committed to shutting down all of Germany's nuclear reactors by 2022, after closing eight plants for safety inspections in March at the start of Japan's Fukushima disaster.

Merkel confirmed yesterday that eight of the 17 nuclear plants will be permanently switched off by the end of this year, seven of which were disconnected for safety inspections in March. The other nine will be closed by 2022.

According to a government paper seen by news agency Reuters, Germany will compensate for the nuclear closures by embarking on a plan to reduce electricity consumption 10 percent by 2020 and double the share of renewable energy sources to 35 percent over the same period.

The decision will make Germany the first major industrialized nation to go nuclear-free for 25 years.

Merkel said that she wants to make Germany a trailblazer for renewable energy, a move which was welcomed by supporters of renewables.

However, the decision has also sparked concerns about rising electricity prices and the inability of the current grid infrastructure to cope with the intermittent output provided by wind farms.

Scottish Energy Minister Fergus Ewing welcomed the news as a boost to his country's own commitment to powering Scotland with 100 percent renewable energy by 2020.

"We welcome this announcement from the German government, which adds to the growing international realization of the difficulties associated with nuclear power," he said.

"It adds further weight to our view that Scotland does not need a new generation of costly nuclear plants, and is instead ideally placed to become a green energy powerhouse."

Greenpeace also welcomed the news, but called for Germany to set an even tighter timescale of pledging to phase out nuclear power by 2015.

The organization cited research showing that Germany could shut all 17 of its nuclear reactors by 2015, without relying on imports and by using natural gas as a bridging technology until enough renewable energy capacity had been installed.

"By waving goodbye to nuclear power, Germany has shown that with real vision and determination any country can get rid of risky, dirty and outdated energy sources, and replace them with already available 21st-century renewable and energy efficient technologies," said Greenpeace on its blog.

European Union Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger, however, said that Germany could achive its new ambition only if it also invested in better grid infrastructure, storage capacity and forward planning, as well as more renewables.

BDI, the federation of German industry, warned that ditching nuclear would push up energy prices and make it more difficult to reach emissions targets, and would mean that "the shortfall of nuclear power will have to be compensated by coal and gas power stations".

Merkel's decision has also been criticized as a knee-jerk reaction to the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan in March. The new commitment is a U-turn on an earlier commitment in September to prolong the working life of all 17 of the country's nuclear facilities beyond 2021.

Merkel defended the decision yesterday, telling reporters: "Our energy system has to be fundamentally changed and can be fundamentally changed. We want the electricity of the future to be safer and, at the same time, reliable and economical."

The move comes as a new report from PwC, the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and the International Institute for Applied System Analysis revealed that Europe's renewable energy capacity rose 30 percent during 2010.

However, the study also warned that planning regulations now pose a significant threat to the continued expansion of renewable energy capacity.

This article first appeared at BusinessGreen.com and is reprinted with permission.

Image CC licensed by Flickr user bagalute.