Germany’s nuclear power phaseout turns off environmentalists
After Germany last year committed to closing its nuclear reactors, it’s relying more on coal and importing power from neighbors that use nuclear energy.
KLEINENSIEL, Germany — When the German government shut down half the country’s nuclear reactors after the Fukushima disaster in Japan, followed two months later by a pledge to abandon nuclear power within a decade, environmentalists cheered.
A year later, however, criticism of the nuclear shutdown is emerging from a surprising source: some of the very activists who pushed for the phaseout.
They say poor planning of the shutdown and political opportunism by the government have actually worsened the toll on the environment in Germany, and Europe, at least in the short term.
To make up for the lost nuclear power, which supplied 22% of Germany’s electricity before the phaseout began, the country has increased its reliance on brown coal, a particularly high emitter of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and a major contributor to global warming. Brown coal now supplies 25% of Germany’s electricity, up from 23% a year ago.
Previously a net exporter of electricity, Germany now imports as much electricity as it sells abroad. Removing so much German electricity from the market has benefited power companies in neighboring countries that rely heavily on coal and nuclear power, thereby undermining Germany’s environmental goals and its nuclear safety concerns.
Although abandoning nuclear power is expected to eventually clear the way for the development of renewable energy, in which Germany is already a world leader, the environmental effect so far has been problematic.
Last year’s shuttering of eight of the country’s 17 reactors has led to an increase in carbon dioxide emissions of 25 million tons annually in Europe, said Laszlo Varro of the International Energy Agency, a European intergovernmental organization.
Pictured: Demonstrators at the nuclear power plant Gundremmingen in southern Germany in March. Now that the government is planning to shut down nuclear plants, some activisits say poor planning and political opportunism have actually increased the toll on the environment. (Timm Schamberger, Associated Press / March 11, 2012)