Germany to shut remaining nuclear power plants

In marked contrast to its European neighbours, Germany is going ahead this week with plans to phase out nuclear power.

The country is closing operations on its last three reactors on 15 April.

On the banks of the Neckar River, not far from Stuttgart in south Germany, the nuclear power plant in Baden-Württemberg is to close. The same applies further east for the Bavarian Isar 2 complex and the Emsland complex, at the other end of the country, not far from the Dutch border.

The country began phasing out nuclear power more than 20 years ago – but plans were escalated following Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011. 

Subsequent anti-nuclear demonstrations in Germany led then chancellor Angela Merkel to press ahead with plans to shut down all of Germany’s remaining nuclear power by 2022.

According to the World Nuclear Organisation, until March 2011 Germany obtained one-quarter of its electricity from nuclear energy, using 17 reactors. The remaining three reactors provide about 6% of the country’s electricity, while over one-quarter of its electricity comes from coal, the majority of that from lignite.

The Russia-Ukraine war prompted a reappraisal of the original plan to close the country’s three remaining reactors at the end of 2022. The German coalition government, following a ‘stress test’ conducted by the country’s power grid transmission operators, agreed in September 2022 to keep Isar 2 and Neckarwestheim 2 on standby until mid-April 2023.

Prior to the September 2022 decision, the Green party had been opposed to extending the operation of any reactors. The FDP argued that new fuel should be ordered so that the country’s remaining reactors can operate into 2024.

In October 2022 Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced that the country would keep the three remaining nuclear power reactors in operation until mid-April 2023.

Opinion on the closures remains divided. A poll held by ARD-DeutschlandTrend in August 2022 found that 41% of those surveyed believed that the country should continue to use nuclear energy in the long term. Only 15% of those surveyed were in favour of the remaining nuclear reactors being shut down at the end of 2022 – as was planned under Germany’s nuclear phase-out policy – with 41% supporting an extension of the operation of the units by a few months. Similarly, a poll conducted the same month by the online survey institute Civey on behalf of Der Spiegel found that 78% supported the continued operation of the last three German reactors until the summer of 2023, with 67% of those questioned in favour of operating the reactors for another five years.