Germany has shut down its last remaining nuclear power plant, two years ahead of schedule. Supporters of the Greens and the Pirate Party staged a peaceful demonstration outside the gates, raising a cheer when the signal was received that ‘cold shutdown’ of all the reactors had been achieved. This was followed by the sound of champagne corks popping; it was obviously a celebration.
After the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, Angela Merkel reverted to the more popular policy of closing nuclear power stations at most 32 years after their commissioning. This strategic move saved her government from being voted out in the next election.
Faced with an enormous challenge, to phase out 22% of their generation capacity and still reduce fossil fuel use, German scientists put a massive effort into ‘New Energy’ – technologies that efficiently harvest power from biological and renewable sources like sunlight. Every available source was explored, even geothermal power.
The progress in solar power and biological fuel cells has been astounding, making Moore’s law seem ridiculously conservative.
This is a barely believable scenario from the energy crises of the late 20th Century, but Germany has achieved the phasing out of nuclear power – while simultaneously reducing carbon emissions and remaining Europe’s biggest economy!
Radical innovations in technology have made New Energy the most economic option, with exponential returns in terms of efficiency from scientific breakthroughs in biotech and nanotech.
On the other hand, France continues to forge alliances from China to Africa for the advancement of nuclear power, despite the fact that Germany has proved the business benefits of clean renewable energy.
ANALYSIS >> SYNTHESIS: How this scenario came to be
Germany’s nuclear-free policy had its origins in 2005. The architect of this radical energy strategy was the government’s Environment Minister at the time, Juergen Trittin. He outlined the proposals to the EU:
“We are on a strategy to phase out nuclear, to raise the share of renewables, and to increase the efficiency of fossil power plants,” he said. Germany currently uses a large mix of energy sources. “We understand that this makes it possible that in the year 2020, when we have phased out nuclear, we will have been able to reduce greenhouse emissions by 40% compared with 1990.”
2003: Germany shuts down first nuke
The 32-year-old Stade plant near Hamburg is taken off the country’s electrical grid. Its closure is part of an agreement reached two years previously between the government and power companies.
Germany aims to shut all its nuclear power plants by 2025.
2005: Advancing the timeline
Germany’s Environment Minister wants to commit to phasing out all the nuclear plants by 2020. It’s an ambitious plan. Angela Merkel becomes the leader of the coalition government, after the elections in November.
2009: Angela Merkel returns
In the elections of 27 September 2009, Angela Merkel’s party, the CDU, obtains the largest share of the votes, and forms a coalition government with the CSU and the Free Democratic Party. Her government is sworn in on 28 October 2009. Energy development is one of the major issues of her tenure.
2010: Nukes get new lease on life
Merkel’s government, in an unpopular move, decides to extend the life of seven aging nuclear plants, in order to ensure sufficient energy.
2011: Tsunamis of change
The Japanese earthquake and tsunami result in a nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima plant. The plant operator battles to contain the situation. It’s the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.
Italians and Germans hit the streets in protest. The disaster forces a complete nuclear re-think worldwide. Angela Merkel immediately orders the temporary closure of the seven plants whose life was extended.
After talks with coalition partners, German Environment Minister Norbert Roettgen announces: “Regarding the closing of nuclear power plants our agreement entails that the seven old nuclear power plants, that were affected by the moratorium, and also the nuclear power plant Kruemmel, will no longer be on the network. A second group of six nuclear power plants will be taken off the grid by 2021 at the latest, and the three most modern nuclear power plants will be taken off the grid by 2022.”
2012: Biotech break through
Advances in the science of connecting bacteria to electrodes make it possible to raise the efficiency of microbiological fuel cells to new heights. Meanwhile startups in the United States begin producing liquid fuels excreted by genetically engineered microbes.
2013: A new coalition
Angela Merkel keeps the reins in a new coalition with the Greens as well as the Social Democrats.
Solar energy starts to compete directly with fossil fuels. Ray Kurzweil is optimistic: “Solar is still more expensive than fossil fuels, but the costs are coming down rapidly — we are only a few years away from parity. And then it’s going to keep coming down, and people will be gravitating towards solar, even if they don’t care at all about the environment, because of the economics.”
2017: New Energy is hot, nukes are not>
Germany continues on its path of taking nuclear power stations off the grid, and shutting them down. The Greens push for an ever sooner “nuclear free Germany.” As fast as economic alternatives scale up, so are nukes shut down.
2020: Last nuke goes
Buoyant with its New Energy resources, Germany takes the plunge and closes the last remaining nuclear plants ahead of schedule. It’s good for votes, but the government insists it’s also more economical to do it now, rather than risk escalating decommissioning costs.