The German government will stop using nuclear energy and shut down all of its nuclear reactors by 2022.
Minister of Ecology Norbert Roettgen made the announcement early Monday [May 30, 2011], and explained how Germany plans to phase out its 17 nuclear reactors over the next 11 years.
Vote in the Poll: Should We Eliminate or Expand Nuclear Power?
Germany to Phase Out All Nuclear Reactors
Roettgen said Germany's seven oldest reactors, which were taken offline for a safety review when the Japanese nuclear crisis began, will be shut down and never used again. The Kruemmel nuclear reactor in northern Germany, which was already offline due to technical problems, will also be permanently shut down. Six more reactors will be shut down no later than the end of 2021 and "the three most modern, newest nuclear plants will go offline in 2022 at the latest," Roettgen said.
Merkel Changes Position on Nuclear Energy
In 2010, German Chancellor Angela Merkel pushed through a plan to extend operation of Germany's nuclear power plants, with the last reactor scheduled to go offline in 2036. When a 9.0 earthquake and tsunami knocked out cooling systems at nuclear reactors in Japan, sparking the world's worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl, Merkel reversed her position and set up a special review board to consider energy options and make recommendations.
"We want the electricity of the future to be safe, reliable and economically viable," said Merkel, who has a Ph.D in physics. "We have to follow a new path."
Germany to Switch from Nuclear to Renewable Energy
With all 17 reactors online and operating, nuclear energy provided 23 percent of Germany's electricity. Renewable energy—specifically solar, wind and hydroelectric power—currently produces about 17 percent of the nation's electricity.
By increasing its investments in renewable energy, and employing energy-efficiency strategies that are expected to cut electricity demand by around 10 percent, the German government plans to be meeting about half of its electricity needs with renewable energy by the time the last nuclear reactor goes offline in 2022.
Germany's Nuclear Shutdown an Example for Other Nations
Germany is the largest economy in Europe and the fourth largest in the world. It is the only major industrialized nation to make the commitment to become nuclear-free. Italy is the only other European nation that has abandoned nuclear power, a decision the Italians made following the Chernobyl nuclear accident in 1986.
Businesses and utilities warned that abandoning nuclear energy and relying more heavily on renewable energy will lead to increased costs and possible power shortages, but Merkel said that Germany could serve as a trailblazer for renewable energy and an example for other nations to follow.