Germany announced Monday it would become the biggest industrial power to completely give up nuclear energy following the crisis at the Fukushima plant in Japan, saying that all nuclear reactors would be shut by 2022. The announcement caps a startling reversal in which Chancellor Angela Merkel was strongly in favor of nuclear power before she was against it. Yet coming after weeks of discussions, “the German government has made it clear that it is serious with its U-turn on nuclear energy,” notes Der Spiegel.
After a long night of talks, Germany’s Environment Minister Norbert Roettgen announced the details of the plan that would force all of the country’s nuclear plants to go offline by 2022 at the latest. Specifically, the seven plants that were shut down after the Fukushima disaster in Japan and one that had already been taken offline would remain shut. Six would then go offline by the end of 2021 and the three most modern plants would have until 2022 to be shut, according to a plan outlined by Roettgen. The agreement “may be even more ambitious than the nuclear exit planned when the Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens were in power in 2000,” details Reuters.
The move marks a stark change of direction for Merkel, who had announced nine months earlier that the lifespan of nuclear plants would be extended by around 12 years. Yet she reversed course after the Japan disaster as Germans took to the streets in mass anti-nuclear protests. Germany’s opposition parties expressed some skepticism, questioning whether the government is truly committed to investing the money necessary to increase the supply of renewable energies. The move was outright criticized by officials in France, who insist their neighbor will become more reliant on fossil fuels and imported energy, reports Bloomberg. Businesses have also expressed opposition, warning it would increase costs and affect reliability. Around 22 percent of German power last year was supplied by nuclear reactors, while 17 percent was from renewable sources. In order to ease concerns that the move would lead to an increased reliance on coal, the government plans to accompany the shutdowns with a plan to cut electricity consumption by 10 percent by 2020 while doubling the share of renewable energy to 35 percent. Yet the move would imply “re-jigging the electricity distribution system because much of the extra wind power would come from farms on the North Sea to replace atomic power stations in the south,” notes the BBC.
In related news, the Guardian reports on unpublished estimates from the International Energy Agency that claim greenhouse-gas emissions increased by a record amount last year, showing that the global recession didn’t do as much to decrease emissions as initially expected. Now it seems that the goal of preventing temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius is particularly unrealistic. Scientists say that the crisis in the nuclear power industry is one of the reasons why emissions will continue rising.
Meanwhile, things aren’t looking good for the area surrounding Fukushima as soil samples from areas outside the 12-mile exclusion zone have found high levels of contamination. A study has found that radiation from the plant has spread over 230 square miles, reports Bloomberg, suggesting there could soon be a Chernobyl-like “dead zone” if the government doesn’t act quickly to decontaminate the soil. The good news is that the contaminated area is far smaller than that around Chernobyl, where the “dead zone” remains at around 19 miles. But, of course, before the land can be treated Tepco must finally end the crisis at the nuclear station. And that became harder Monday when the company suspended some of the outdoor work at the plant due to a tropical storm that has raised fears more radioactive material could leak into the land and sea, reports the BBC.