This Post was submitted by Climate Scorecard Germany Country Manager Zahi Badra
In 2020, 12.6% of Germany’s electricity was produced using nuclear energy from seven nuclear power plants. Despite this, the usage of nuclear power in Germany’s energy sector is expected to end by late 2022.
Up until the 2000s, Germany was relying on nuclear power as a significant part of its electricity production. While the discussion regarding the safety of nuclear energy as well as prominent politicians calling for its phasing out right from the start, during the first decade of the 2000s Germany produced between a fifth and a quarter of its electricity in 17 nuclear power plants. However, the Social Democrat and Green coalition of 2001-2005 decided to gradually phase out nuclear electricity production until 2036. Following the Fukushima accident, Germany has decided to accelerate this process and phase out nuclear electricity production within a decade.
In 2011, after the first phase of major nuclear plant closure, Germany suffered from localized shortages in electricity as well as increased energy prices. A recent study concluded that the first phase of the nuclear exit strategy also increased CO2 emissions on the short term; this is counted for an increase in mortality due to air pollution of an estimated 1,100 people.
The decision to phase out nuclear power on a long process rather than immediately was highly controversial both due to the fear from catastrophes, as well as due to criticism towards Germany’s handling of nuclear waste. As a part of the compensation scheme, the government freed the operators of power plants from the responsibility of taking care of radioactive waste disposal, and made a collective effort to ensure safe, just and long-term disposal of the waste, on German soil, costing approximately 23 billion Euro.
In September of 2020, a committee started examining 90 possible sites within Germany (most of them in southern Germany) in the federal states of Bavaria and Baden-Wurtenberg, and some in the former East German states. The process is expected to take around a decade and the radioactive waste should be permanently disposed in the new site between 2031 and 2050. Until presently, this waste was stored in multiple temporary sites which are now running out of space. The new site which will be selected, must will be surrounded by a bedrock of at least 100 meters and covered by a bedrock layer of at least 300 meters.
In recent years, the process of phasing out nuclear energy is highly dependent on the further development of renewable energy resources. Germany is making an effort to fulfill its ambitious goals on emission reduction, while phasing out nuclear power as well as reducing the dependency on fossil fuels—especially coal. Approaching the last phase of nuclear plant closure, Germany has to step up its efforts to create a surplus of electricity and assure a sufficient buffer, in order to smoothly depart from nuclear electricity production. Some political actors also call for a delay in the closure of the last nuclear power plants until a certain threshold of renewables would be achieved. This, however, seems to be unlikely.