The responses are mixed. Some see this as a victory, cheering for Germany to move away from a source of electricity they see as dangerous and flawed. But others see climate action as a major obstacle — with nuclear power plants shutting down left and right, coal power has weakened, providing the nation’s bulk of electricity, and all the while causing emissions.
Germany’s real challenge lies ahead as it tries to meet ambitious climate goals without the country’s steady supply of nuclear power. The whole situation highlights what I see as a central question in the climate movement today: Where exactly should nuclear come in?
What is happening with nuclear power in Germany?
The decades-long nuclear war in Germany has been a long and drawn-out war. Here’s the SparkNotes version of what’s happening:
- In the year Questions about what to do with nuclear waste also began to grow.
- After much protest, the government announced plans to shut down all nuclear power plants. The plan was launched in 2002.
- After a bit of a reversal, things came to a head again in 2011 with the Fukushima disaster in Japan. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has pushed to speed up the shutdown and complete the work by 2022.
- The shutdown has been delayed from October 2022 due to energy security concerns related to the war in Ukraine. But in the year On April 15, 2023, at 11:59 p.m., Germany’s last nuclear power plant disconnected from the electrical grid.
So what does all this have to do with climate change?
Shutting down nuclear power plants could be a major setback for climate goals. While Germany is making great strides in installing renewable energy such as wind and solar, emissions from its electricity sector are falling alarmingly. The country had pledged to reach net zero emissions by 2045, but missed its climate targets in 2021 and 2022.
This slow growth is due in part to wind and solar power replacing coal with nuclear power – a low-emissions source.
Compared to other industrialized countries, Germany still burns a lot of coal, and much of it is particularly polluting lignite coal. The German government It has committed to phasing out coal by 2038, while the current administration is targeting an earlier goal of 2030. Weaning off coal has been slow, however – some recently closed coal plants restarted this summer due to the energy crisis.
A look at the gap between France and Germany, two of the highest-income neighbors in Western Europe, shows why all this matters.