Goodbye, nuclear power!
The latest issue of the Oeko-Institut’s eco@work magazine turns the spotlight on the phase-out of nuclear power. On 15 April 2023 at the latest, Germany’s two remaining reactors will be taken off the grid. This was agreed in the 19th amendment to the German Atomic Energy Act, adopted by the Federal Cabinet on 10 October 2022. So let’s take a look back at nuclear power in Germany.
When West Germany opened its first research reactor in Garching near Munich 65 years ago, nuclear energy still enjoyed broad cross-party support. However, the first protests which followed just a few years later – against the Würgassen reactor in 1968, for example – attested to the controversial nature of this form of power generation. Major accidents such as the Chernobyl disaster in 1986 also highlighted the potential dangers of nuclear power for humankind. There are many good reasons for phasing out nuclear power. Scientists at the Oeko-Institut have been raising awareness of them for more than 40 years.
The birth of the anti-nuclear movement can be traced back to the successful protests against the planned Wyhl nuclear power plant in the mid-1970s. It was this conflict which led to the founding of the Oeko-Institut in 1977.
The nuclear phase-out was initially agreed by Germany’s SPD-Green government in 2000. In 2010, however, the new CDU/CSU-FDP coalition government extended the nuclear power plant lifetimes by an average of 12 years. It revisited this decision after Fukushima and voted to phase out nuclear power by 2022.
After the decision on the nuclear phase-out, the conversation went quiet for some time. However, the war in Ukraine and the threat of energy shortages have rekindled the debate about nuclear power. There are calls from many quarters for the reactors to be kept running, for new fuel elements to be procured and installed and even for new reactors to be constructed. Does nuclear power suddenly have a future again?
For Dr Christoph Pistner from the Oeko-Institut, nuclear power is still on its way out – and not only in Germany. He expects this to be a “drawn-out process”. The lifetimes of the existing reactors cannot simply be “extended at will – and new plants are simply too expensive”.
In early November, he spoke in an expert capacity at the Public Hearing on the Amendment of the German Atomic Energy Act (Extension of Lifetimes) hosted by the German Bundestag’s Committee on the Environment.
Other blog articles on this topic:
The nuclear phase-out – myths about stretchout operation and extension of lifetimes
Energy policy in times of the Ukraine war: Nuclear power instead of natural gas?
Dr Christoph Pistner is a physicist and Head of the Nuclear Engineering and Facility Safety Division at the Oeko-Institut’s Darmstadt office.