Flipping off: Germany to abandon nuclear by 2022, activists not satisfied

Woman in green t-shirt

Despite the fallout from the Fukushima nuclear disaster and renewed fears about the safety of nuclear power, almost no country has taken a position against the controversial energy source, except one.   Europe’s economic engine and most populace country, Germany, has bucked the global trend and announced it will shut down all of its nuclear power plants by 2022, at the latest.

But ask Jana Wiechmann, Greenpeace coordinator for the northern German city of Bremen, if the battle over nuclear in Germany is won and the answer is simple: no.

“We think we can get out of nuclear energy even quicker, as soon as 2015,” said Wiechmann in an interview a week after the German government made its announcement.

Woman in green t-shirt

Wiechmann and her Greenpeace colleagues have been at the forefront of perhaps the world’s strongest anti-nuclear movement, and though their work has been instrumental in mobilizing the German public against nuclear power, she says abandoning nuclear by 2022 is not nearly soon enough.

In a document Greenpeace Germany calls Der Plan (The Plan), the organization details how the country can wean itself off nuclear power by 2015, seven years earlier than the current government commitment.

Nuclear power provides about 25 percent of Germany’s current electrical supply and in order to get off nuclear, another power source will have to replace this supply.   Greenpeace’s recommendation to decommission all nuclear plants by 2015 makes this a tall order, so much so that the environmental organization is recommending increased use of fossil fuel power plants to make it possible.   And what of the global warming problem or the pollution coal-fired plants create?

“If we have to choose between the risks of nuclear energy where we could nuke the area for thousands of years if I compare that with only the heating of the atmosphere then we choose coal because there is no better alternative,” said Wiechmann.   But she specified that, “coal can only be the bridge from nuclear power to renewable energies.”

The idea of increasing fossil fuel use may seem counterproductive when it comes to other Greenpeace priorities such as battling climate change, but this is an indication of the vehemence of the anti-nuclear movement in the country of nearly 82 million people.

The Greenpeace plan lays out on a year-by-year basis how Germany’s nuclear power plants can be shut down within four years.   Though coal- and natural gas-fired power plants are proposed by Greenpeace to help Germany move away from nuclear, renewable energy is what they see as the long term solution.

maps of Germany with energy icons

Germany is already a leader in renewable energies like wind, solar and biogas, but Der Plan takes the country even further.   “Other countries look at what we are doing and we have the responsibility to show the world what’s possible,” said Wiechmann.

She thinks other countries can watch the German example and use it to decide if they want coal power or if they want to import German technology, since German companies are also leaders in the manufacture and design of wind turbines and solar panels.

Critics may point to the plan to use coal to help fill the supply gap left by the absence of nuclear.  The organization’s plan intends to begin phasing out coal starting in 2016 and to go coal free by 2040.

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  • Nuclear power is being replaced by renewables with the occasional assistance from fossil fuels. Nuke plants do not scale well with renewables, or any other power generation for that matter. And uranium supplies are quickly running out. There are many reason to decommission nuke plants from safety to profitability. For sure, building new nuclear plants is a wasted, wasted investment.

  • I think it is incredibly shortsighted to decommission all of these nuclear plants in such a short period of time without having a viable clean energy alternative.

    While renewable forms of energy such hydro, wind and solar are making headway, they alone cannot possibly pick up the slack for the 25% of Germany’s current electrical supply that is being produced by Nuclear. Furthermore, each of these renewable forms of energy come with their own baggage and are far from being environmentally neutral.

    Trading nuclear for coal in the short run (even if this short run is only 50yrs or so) is just plain irresponsible. This is a complex problem we have and treating it with such band-aid solutions will not get us very far.

  • In terms of fossil energy, Germany appears to have some shale gas reserves, to give this discussion a Quebec link, but public opposition seems to be slowing things down.


    The estimate is really quite small though, “A recent study by the U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates that Germany sits atop 8 trillion cubic feet of technically recoverable shale gas resources — roughly three times Germany’s yearly consumption.” So after three years of steady consumption, there goes Germany’s shale gas and that’s technically recoverable, not necessarily economically. Hardly seems worth it, economically or environmentally.

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