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Germany’s Disastrous Transition from Nuclear Energy to Coal

Germany’s Disastrous Transition from Nuclear Energy to Coal

Apr 27, 2024

Germany’s Disastrous Transition from Nuclear Energy to Coal

One year after Germany shut down its last three nuclear power stations, the decision continues to perplex and attract criticism internationally. Amidst global energy challenges, Germany's move to phase out nuclear energy in favor of renewables has been met with skepticism.

The move away from nuclear power is deeply rooted in Germany's post-war socio-political history, where anti-nuclear sentiments have been strong since long before climate change dominated public discourse.

The anti-nuclear movement in Germany gained momentum with a 1971 West German bestseller, "Peaceably into Catastrophe," leading to mass protests and the largest-ever demonstration in Bonn. Concerns about technocracy, ecological and safety risks, and the implications for nuclear proliferation motivated the movement, which also opposed the concentration of power reminiscent of the Nazi era.

Renewable energy was championed by activists for its potential for "energy democracy," with a focus on decentralizing power production. This movement laid the groundwork for the creation of Germany's influential Green Party in 1980, which later formed a coalition government that initiated the nuclear shutdown and bolstered support for renewables.

Germany's "Energiewende," or energy transition, has been a unique endeavor that seeks to shift from both "carbon-intensive" and nuclear energy to predominantly renewable sources. This policy direction was reaffirmed after the 2011 Fukushima disaster, despite a brief pro-nuclear stance under Angela Merkel's second cabinet.

The nation still grapples with the political and practical challenges of nuclear waste storage, with no community consenting to host a facility and temporary storage sites offering no long-term solution. Public opinion remains largely anti-nuclear, with a 2022 survey indicating that 52 percent of Germans opposed new reactors, though a temporary extension was supported by 78 percent.

Despite this support, the current Social Democratic-Green-Liberal coalition government settled on a compromise to phase out nuclear power by mid-April 2023. This decision reflects the deep-rooted anti-nuclear sentiment among the Greens and significant portions of the population.

While the main opposition party, the CDU, has publicly stated the necessity of the nuclear option, privately, few political leaders believe a reversal is likely or even feasible. The investment climate has shifted, with a preference for "safer bets" rather than the long-term investment of nuclear power.

Arstechnica Article


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