Germany’s nuclear phase-out: The last nuclear reactors are switched off


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Status: 04/16/2023 00:33

The era of nuclear energy in Germany is over. Shortly before midnight, the last three nuclear reactors Isar 2, Neckarwestheim 2 and Emsland went offline. Opponents of nuclear power celebrated the historic step.

The last three nuclear power plants in Germany have stopped producing electricity. The Meiler Emsland in Lingen, Lower Saxony, Isar 2 in Bavaria and Neckarwestheim 2 in Baden-Württemberg were taken off the grid as planned before midnight. This was announced by the operators RWE, PreussenElektra and EnBW.

With the separation of the generator from the power grid, the Emsland power plant was shut down at 10:37 p.m., RWE announced. This is the end of “the safe and reliable performance of the plant” after 35 years, which was put into operation in 1988. At 11:52 p.m., the connection to the network at the Isar 2 nuclear power plant in Essenbach, Lower Bavaria, was severed, as a spokeswoman for the operator Preussen-Elektra told the dpa news agency. The reactor has since been shut down. Isar 2 went online in 1988. According to the operator, the Neckarwestheim 2 power plant was the last to go offline at 11:59 p.m. It had been in operation since 1982.

“We work according to law and order, and it is clear that power operation would be a criminal offense from April 16,” said the federal chief nuclear supervisor, head of the department for nuclear safety and radiation protection in the Ministry of the Environment, Gerrit Niehaus, of the dpa .

Era of nuclear energy ends after more than 60 years

With the disconnection of the last three reactors from the grid, the era of the use of nuclear energy in Germany ended after more than six decades. As the first commercial nuclear power plant, the kiln in Kahl in Bavaria went into operation in November 1960 – since June 1961 it has been feeding electricity into the grid. In the GDR, the use of the technology to generate electricity began in 1966.

The first decision to phase out the use of nuclear energy was made in 2001 by what was then the red-green coalition. The black and yellow federal government, which ruled from 2009 to 2013, initially extended the operating times of the nuclear power plants, but, under the impression of the reactor catastrophe in Fukushima in 2011, initiated the phase-out of nuclear power again by the end of 2022. After a long argument and a word of power from Chancellor Olaf Scholz, the traffic light coalition had pushed back the original date by three and a half months. The background was concerns about the security of supply in view of the consequences of the Russian war of aggression in Ukraine and the associated gas and energy crisis.

Debate on nuclear energy continues

Even if the decision to phase out nuclear power had long been a matter of fact, the debate about the pros and cons of the step continued in the hours before the end for the remaining three reactors. Federal Environment Minister Steffi Lemke told the dpa news agency that the nuclear phase-out would make Germany safer. “The risks of nuclear power are ultimately unmanageable in the event of an accident,” she explained. Green Party leader Ricarda Lang tweeted that the nuclear phase-out meant the “final entry into the age of renewable energies”.

SPD leader Saskia Esken told the newspapers of the Funke media group that she was “very happy” that Germany had “finally managed to phase out highly dangerous nuclear power”. She rejected calls by the FDP to rely on nuclear fusion for energy production after the last nuclear reactors had been shut down. FDP General Secretary Bijan Djir-Sarai again called for this technology not to be completely abandoned. “Nuclear energy must have a future in Germany even after the exit,” he told dpa. “This includes expanding research in the field of nuclear fusion and exploiting the opportunities presented by new and safer nuclear fission technologies.”

Celebrating opponents of nuclear power

The environmental organization Greenpeace celebrated the exit from nuclear energy. At the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, she showed a red man standing on a replica dinosaur with a “Nuclear Power? No Thanks” sign and a sword. “German nuclear power” and “Defeated on April 15, 2023!” were written on the dinosaur’s stomach. In Berlin, however, some people also protested against the shutdown of the nuclear power plants. The association Nuklearia had announced in an appeal that it wanted to set a positive example for nuclear power: “We see nuclear power as the best way to maintain our prosperity and at the same time protect nature and the climate.”

In Munich, the Bund Naturschutz and Greenpeace organized a nuclear phase-out party. According to police estimates, around 1,000 participants attended the rally. In Baden-Württemberg, hundreds of opponents of nuclear power celebrated a “switch-off party” in front of the Neckarwestheim kiln. A few hours before the Emsland nuclear power plant was shut down, opponents of nuclear power in Lingen called for a systematic exit from the nuclear industry in Germany.

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