The German Retreat From Nuclear Power
Germany's economic priorities are torn between industrial growth and energy degrowth. As its last nuclear plants are shut down, the choice is between relying on fossil fuels or closing factories.
On New Year's Eve 2021, the German government powered down three of its remaining six nuclear power plants. The final three are scheduled to be shut down by the end of 2022. This is the culmination of a phaseout of nuclear energy that goes as far back as the 1960s. From 1989, when Germany’s last reactor was commissioned, to 2021, nuclear-generated electricity fell from 29% of overall German electricity production to 11%.1 Meanwhile, electricity generation from wind, solar, and naturally occurring bioenergy grew from 4% to 44%.2 Bionergy refers to fuels extracted from living organisms like trees, crops, and recycled waste. The most common bioenergy in Germany is solid biofuel such as wood, followed by biogases created from organic matter like meat processing waste.3 Germany’s energy transition—in German, Energiewende—appears incoherent at first. In the name of environmentalism, Germany has rapidly phased out low-carbon nuclear power, replacing it with a combination of Russian natural gas4 and highly subsidized renewable energy. The cost of this transition is higher energy prices and increased dependence on politically sensitive Russian imports. The payoff has been a reduction in emissions slightly less than that achieved by pro-nuclear France.5 The new government is anticipating that the country will not meet its climate goals for either 2022 or 2023.6