Germany is shutting down half of the six nuclear plants it still has in operation, a year before the country draws the final curtain on its decades-long use of atomic power.
The decision to phase out nuclear power and shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy was first taken by the centre-left government of former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder in 2002.
His successor, Angela Merkel, reversed her decision to extend the lifetime of Germany’s nuclear plants in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan and set 2022 as the final deadline for shutting them down.
The three reactors now being shuttered were first powered up in the mid-1980s. Together they provided electricity to millions of German households for almost 40 years.
Some in Germany have called for the decision to end the use of nuclear power to be reconsidered again because the power plants already in operation produce relatively little carbon dioxide. Advocates 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 plants next year and then phasing out the use of coal by 2030 will not affect the country’s energy security or its goal of making Europe’s biggest economy “climate neutral” by 2045.
Several of Germany’s neighbours have already ended nuclear power or announced plans to do so, but others are sticking with the technology. This has prompted concerns of a nuclear rift in Europe.
Germany’s nuclear power companies will receive almost $3 billion for the early shutdown of their plants. A final decision is yet to be taken about 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.