Germans break apart as the last three nuclear power plants go offline

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Germany turned off its three last nuclear power units on Saturday. Image: GETTY IMAGES

On a side of Berlin’s iconic Brandenburg Gate on Saturday, jubilation was in the air as anti-atomic activists rejoiced in their hard-fought victory after a 60-year-long battle.

On the opposite side of the Gate, protests unfolded as demonstrators marched against the closure of Germany’s remaining three nuclear power stations. Isar 2, Emsland, and Neckarwestheim 2 had all been shut down by midnight on Saturday.

The Brandenburg Gate, once a symbol of the Cold War division in Berlin, now serves as a battleground for opposing ideologies on nuclear energy in Germany. Emotions run high on this contentious issue, especially as the specter of war looms large over Europe.

Each side accuses the other of adhering to irrational ideology. Conservative commentators and politicians argue that the country is swayed by Green Party doctrine, which seeks to eliminate domestic nuclear power at a time when reducing reliance on Russian energy could result in higher prices.

They criticize the government for increasing dependence on fossil fuels instead of utilizing nuclear power, which has lower emissions.

“It’s a black day for climate protection in Germany,” lamented Jens Spahn, a conservative CDU MP, during an interview on RTL television earlier in the week.

The debate over nuclear energy remains deeply divisive in Germany, with passionate arguments on both sides.

For decades, efforts have been made to divest Germany of nuclear power. Image: GETTY IMAGES.

The Greens and left-wing parties argue that clinging to nuclear power is illogical, given that it is more expensive compared to renewable sources such as wind and solar.

They emphasize that investing in renewable energy should be prioritized over keeping the three aging nuclear power stations online.

Green Party MPs point out the irony of the conservative CDU party championing climate protection, considering that they have consistently blocked measures to expand renewable energy infrastructure in the past.

They also highlight that it was a conservative-led government under Angela Merkel that had previously decided to phase out nuclear power after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011, a decision that was popular with voters and influenced by widespread anti-nuclear sentiment at the time.

Some cynics speculate that upcoming regional elections may have played a role in the decision.

Germany has made significant progress in renewable energy, with nearly half of its electricity (44% as per the Federal Statistical Office in 2022) coming from renewable sources, and only 6% from nuclear power.

Green economy minister Robert Habeck has been proactive in pushing for further renewable energy adoption, with a target of 80% renewable electricity in Germany by 2030.

Laws have been passed to expedite the construction of solar and wind farms to achieve this goal.

In the past year, Germany has seen a stagnation in the proportion of renewable energy, coupled with an increase in CO2 emissions, as the country has been forced to import liquefied natural gas (LNG) and use more coal due to limited access to Russian gas.

This has led to some Green voters and anti-nuclear activists supporting a temporary extension of the lifespan of the last three nuclear power stations.

In an article published in Der Tagesspiegel, Green Party environment minister Steffi Lemke argued that Germany is phasing out nuclear power due to the potential for catastrophic accidents, citing examples such as Chernobyl and Fukushima, as well as the current conflict in Ukraine.

She emphasized that renewables are safer, more sustainable, better for the climate, and economically viable, making nuclear power unnecessary in Germany.

Green Party leaders also pointed out that despite predictions of shortages and blackouts, Germany actually produces more energy than it needs, even exporting energy to France during the summer when French nuclear power stations cannot operate due to extreme weather conditions.

Public opinion on nuclear power in Germany is divided. According to a recent ARD-DeutschlandTrend poll, 59% of Germans are against shutting down atomic energy, with only 34% in favor.

However, a more detailed YouGov poll revealed a nuanced picture, with 65% supporting keeping the remaining nuclear power stations running for now, but only 33% supporting nuclear power indefinitely.

In other words, there is a sentiment to eventually phase out nuclear power, but not immediately.

Many proponents of nuclear energy contend that it is a cleaner fuel than some alternatives. Image: REUTER.

The issue of nuclear power in Germany continues to be politically contentious. Markus Söder, the conservative leader of Bavaria, recently called for not only keeping the last three reactors online but also reactivating old power stations, including one that he himself had shut down in Bavaria.

Christian Lindner, the finance minister and head of the liberal FDP party, also went against the government’s official line and called for the three power stations to stay active in reserve, despite the fact that these ideas may not be technologically, legally, or financially feasible at this stage.

Both Söder and Lindner may see political capital in advocating for nuclear power, regardless of the technical feasibility, as reflected in the polls.

The Green Party, which has its roots in the anti-nuclear movement of the 1970s, may be celebrating the phase-out of nuclear power in Germany.

However, they also realize that their political opponents may hold them responsible for any future energy shortages, price hikes, or missed CO2 targets.

While Germany is moving towards phasing out nuclear power, the issue remains politically explosive, with differing opinions and perspectives among various political parties and leaders.

It continues to be a topic of debate and discussion, with potential implications for energy policy, climate goals, and political dynamics in Germany.

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