In the wake of Japan’s Fukushima nuclear meltdown, the German government has reversed its energy policy and will gradually wean itself from its nuclear energy program, shutting down its reactors by 2022.
Germany, Europe’s largest economy and the world’s fourth largest, announced on Monday it will undertake a revolutionary new energy policy, ridding itself of a nuclear power program and shifting toward renewables such as wind, solar and hydroelectric power.
Regarding the new policy, Norbert Roettgen, Germany’s environment minister, said: “This is coherent. It is clear. That’s why it is a good result,” CBC News reports.
As of March, before Germany took its seven oldest nuclear reactors offline, almost 25 percent of Germany’s energy was supplied by nuclear power. The seven reactors were temporarily taken offline just four days after the Fukushima incident began. Under the new policy, those seven will be permanently shuttered.
Less than nine months ago, Germany had announced it would extend the operating lives of its 17 nuclear reactors, with the last one going offline in 2036. In September, Chancellor Angela Merkel noted the move by stating: ‘This is nothing more and nothing less than a revolution in energy supply,” Der Spiegel notes.
However, the Fukushima Daiichi disaster in March has apparently stopped the so-called revolution in its tracks. With a majority of Germans opposed to nuclear energy, the government worked out details of its new energy program over the weekend, after an ethics commission, set up by Merkel after the Daiichi disaster began unfolding, delivered its final report on Sunday afternoon.
The left-leaning newspaper Die Tageszeitung called the phaseout a “historic moment” in an editorial, noting:
An industrialized country now has a roadmap for switching to a sustainable energy supply, moving beyond dangerous and expensive nuclear power and dirty coal. That has never happened before. It is a step in the right direction -- and the world is watching.
Greenpeace has hailed Germany’s effort at shutting eight of its reactors as a critical step to ending global dependence on nuclear power, calling it political courage, and in a statement said:
By waving goodbye to nuclear power, Germany has shown that with real vision and determination any country can get rid of risky, dirty and outdated energy sources, and replace them with already available 21st-century renewable and energy efficient technologies. With Japan and Switzerland also moving away from nuclear, other countries need to wake up and embrace clean energy, or risk being left behind.
The environmental group, however, cited research showing the German government could close all 17 of its nuclear reactors by 2015 without reliance on nuclear energy imports or becoming dependent on fossil fuel technologies. It called on the group to replace the reactors with a combination of renewable energy and efficiency initiatives.
Opposition to the government’s Monday announcement came quickly, with Germany’s main conservative newspaper Die Welt calling the move “a creeping rejection” of the country’s economic model which helped transform the country onto its current road of riches. It added
... it is careless to carry out a phaseout under extreme time pressure, rushing it through with scant regard for how fast the economy can adapt.
Threats of legal action came just as quickly, with German manufacturers and energy companies suggesting the country could face energy blackouts. Der Spiegel quoted a spokesman for RWE, the country’s energy giant, as saying “all legal options” were on the table.