February 23, 2024

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Again and again: Germany shuts down its last nuclear plant

Again and again: Germany shuts down its last nuclear plant

BERLIN (AP) – “Nuclear, no thanks!”

What was once a catchphrase found on the bumpers of many German cars became a reality on Saturday, as the country shut down its three remaining nuclear power plants in line with its long-planned transition toward renewable energy.

Amsland shut downand Neckarwestheim II and Isar II shortly before midnight were met with cheers from earlier in the day by anti-nuclear activists outside the three reactors and at rallies in Berlin and Munich. Inside the factories, more somber celebrations were held by employees to mark the occasion.

Decades of anti-nuclear protests in Germany, fueled by the disasters on Three Mile IslandChernobyl and Fukushimahas pressured successive governments to end use of technology that critics argue is unsafe and unsustainable.

But with other industrialized nations, such as the United States, Japan, China, France, and Britain, relying on nuclear power to replace planet-warming fossil fuels, Germany’s decision to stop using both raised skepticism at home and abroad, as well as its lack of success. Last minute calls to stop the decision.

Atomic energy advocates say fossil fuels must be phased out first as part of global efforts to curb climate change, arguing that nuclear power produces far fewer greenhouse gas emissions and is safe, if properly managed.

With energy prices soaring in the past year due to the war in Ukraine, some members of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s government have cooled about shutting down the nuclear plants as planned on December 31, 2022. In a compromise, Scholz agreed to a one-time extension of the deadlinebut he insisted that the final countdown would happen on April 15th.

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However, Bavaria’s conservative governor, Markus Soeder, who backed the original deadline set in 2011 when Chancellor Angela Merkel was Germany’s leader, called this week’s closing a “completely wrong decision”.

“While many countries in the world are expanding nuclear energy, Germany is doing the opposite,” Soeder said. “We need every form of energy possible. Otherwise, we risk electricity prices going up and businesses turning away.”

Nuclear advocates around the world have slammed the German shutdown, knowing that a move by Europe’s largest economy could deal a blow to a technology it touts as a clean and reliable alternative to fossil fuels. On Friday, dozens of scientists, including former NASA climate expert James Hansen, are credited with bringing global warming to public attention in 1988.he sent a letter to Schulz urging him to keep the nuclear plants running.

The German government has acknowledged that in the short term, the country will have to rely more heavily on polluting coal and natural gas to meet its energy needs, even as it takes steps to dramatically increase electricity production from solar and wind power. Germany aims to be carbon neutral by 2045.

But officials such as Environment Minister Stevie Lemke say the idea of ​​a nuclear renaissance is a myth, citing data showing atomic energy’s share of global electricity production is shrinking.

At a recent press conference in Berlin, Lemke noted that new nuclear plants in Europe, such as Hinkley Point C in Britain, have faced significant delays and cost overruns.. She said the money used to maintain old reactors or build new reactors would be better spent on installing cheap renewable energy sources.

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Energy experts such as Claudia Keempfert of the German Institute for Economic Research in Berlin say that the 5% share of German electricity coming from nuclear power can be easily replaced without risking blackouts.

Mayor Dieter Krohn told The Associated Press that the northwestern town of Lingen, home to the Emsland plant, plans to become a center for hydrogen production using electricity generated by wind farms in the North Sea. In an interview this week.

The power plant’s operator, RWE, has made it clear that it is committed to the shutdown. The company still runs some of the dirtiest coal-fired power plants in Europe. I recently paid by destroying a village to expand the mine As part of a plan to increase production in the short term before ending coal use by 2030.

By then, many nuclear power plants in Germany will still be undergoing costly decommissioning. The question of what to do with the highly radioactive material that has accumulated in the 62 years since the country’s first reactor went into operation remains unresolved. Efforts to find a final home for hundreds of toxic waste containers have met fierce resistance from local groups and officials, including Soeder, the governor of Bavaria.

“Nuclear power has supplied electricity for three generations, but its legacy remains grave for thirty thousand generations,” Lemke said, also noting previously unconsidered risks such as targeting civilian atomic facilities during conflicts..

Finding a place to safely store spent nuclear fuel is a problem faced by other countries that use the technology, including the United States. However, US Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm said that nuclear power “will play a critical role in America’s clean energy future.” This week, it welcomed Japan’s decision to restart many of its reactors.

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As the debate rages again in Germany about whether a shutdown is a good idea, a reporter asked Gerrit Niehus, responsible for nuclear safety at the Environment Ministry, to sum up in one sentence the lessons to be learned from the country’s brief atomic era.

“You need to think things over to the end,” Niehaus said.

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Follow AP coverage of climate and the environment at https://apnews.com/hub/climate-and-environment