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Germany: One Year to Go for the Last Three Nuclear Power Plants

While the European Commission is in the process of declaring nuclear power a “green” energy source, Germany is about to get rid of it completely because of its dangers. On New Year’s Eve, the Federal Republic shut down another three reactors. The last three will follow when the new year ends.

Berlin, January 2nd, 2022 (The Berlin Spectator) — In the late 1970s, tens of thousands of left-wingers kept on going to Brokdorf, a community with less than 1,000 inhabitants at the Elbe river. This place in the state of Schleswig-Holstein, located 70 kilometers from Hamburg’s city center, has a few traffic lights, one supermarket, a hotel, an ice rink, a public swimming pool and a giant nuclear power plant. The protesters who arrived on a regular basis did not stage any rallies against the ice rink or the supermarket in the village. It was the NPP they wanted to get rid of.

Wavering Course

In those days, Brokdorf was a symbol that stood for nuclear energy in Germany. The country was divided on the matter. Most conservatives were all in favor of the country’s approach on nuclear energy, while most left-wingers opposed it. The anti-NPP movement was the basis for Germany’s Green party, which was founded in 1980. The same Greens are part of Germany’s new government today. Within their country, they are not alone anymore. Hardly anyone wants nuclear energy anymore.

Former Chancellor Angela Merkel of the conservative CDU was on a wavering course in this regard. First, she agreed to a nuclear power phase-out, when her first grand coalition was in power. Later, when her junior partner was the center-right FDP, she wanted nuclear energy again. Mrs. Merkel followed this course until she watched television news on March 11th, 2011. The footage she saw was disturbing. It showed explosions at two nuclear reactors in Japan’s coastal town of Fukushima. At this moment, she changed her mind again.

Radioactive Waste

In the 1970s, left-wingers opposed the state’s ambition to cover Germany’s energy needs by plastering the entire country with nuclear power plants. Today, some four decades after those protests, 35 years after Chernobyl and 10 years after Fukushima, most conservatives know the anti-nuke movement was right when it pointed out that NPPs spread radioactivity, that they make big regions uninhabitable for thousands of years when they explode, and that there is no sustainable solution for the radioactive waste they produce.

The conflict is not over, but has shifted. It is now being fought out between Germany and the European Commission. Brussels just informed its member states that nuclear power will officially be listed as a “green energy source”, one that was a good alternative to coal and oil.

Physically Detached

Germany’s new Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, a Green politician who was born a few months after her party’s foundation in 1980, had a problem on her first day on the job. On December 9th, 2021, she showed up in Paris. France is the biggest proponent of nuclear energy in Europe and Germany’s most important ally. Bringing these two aspects together during her first official visit was not easy. “It is no secret that we have different positions on the nuclear question”, Mrs. Baerbock said in Paris. The Austrians oppose the European Commission’s pro-nuclear approach too.

Just before the year 2021 ended, on December 31st, three more nuclear power plants were taken off the grid. The cables were physically detached. One of those was the NPP in Brokdorf, a pressurized water reactor with a performance of 1,480 megawatts which delivered energy from December 22nd, 1986, until the day before yesterday. With it, Reactor C in the Bavarian community Gundremmingen and the one in Grohnde, a nice spot at the Weser river in Lower Saxony, were shut down for good.

Cooling Device

So, until the last day of 2021, six German reactors were producing energy. Last time we checked six minus three equaled three. That is how many NPPs are still online, at this moment, in the Federal Republic of Germany. They are the Emsland NPP, located close to the border Germany shares with the Netherlands, in Lower Saxony, the Isar 2 reactor in Bavaria which was named after the river it is using as a cooling device, and the Neckarwestheim 2 plant in Baden-Württemberg. This one gets cooled with water from the Neckar river.

Switching off nuclear power plants is not as simple as it may sound. In the case of Brokdorf, it will take until the year 2040 to strip the whole thing down and to renaturalize the area it was built on. The Brokdorf NPP is actually employing people in spite of its shutdown because getting rid of the reactor is at least as complicated as its construction was. The same applies to all other NPPs Germany shut down earlier. By the way: Stripping down NPPs requires a lot of energy. They should probably build nuclear power plants next to the nuclear power plants they are taking apart, to cover those needs.

Off the Grid

Germany had many reactors. Twenty-four of them were planned but never used. There were a total of 45 reactors of different sizes for research purposes. And 37 reactors actually delivered energy. This is the end of an era. It is almost over.

In 2023, when all nuclear power plants are off the grid, Germany will still have a lot of nuclear waste to get rid off. And it might still be affected by an ‘ultimate MCA’, also known as a “disaster beyond all expectations”, the kind of event that almost happened in Three Mile Island in the United States of America on March 28th, 1979, and which did actually happen in Chernobyl in 1986 and in Fukushima in 2011. That is because France and other neighbors run quite a few NPPs. They pose a danger to everyone in the region. Radioactivity does not stop at borders to show its passport. Besides, the Schengen Area does not have borders.

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