Germany Pulls Plug On Nuclear And Coal Power Plants

Nuclear power in Germany

Germany now has just three operational nuclear power stations left – and at the end of this year there will be none.

Germany once sourced up to around a quarter of its electricity from nuclear energy generated by 17 plants. While there has always been significant opposition to nuclear power in Germany, the catastrophe in Fukushima, Japan in 2011 was a game-changer. In May that year, the Merkel government announced Germany would close all of its nuclear power plants by December 2022 – and just six remained operational last year.

While this has unfortunately provided an extended lifeline for fossil fuels, just over 43 percent of Germany’s total electricity in 2010 came from coal – and that had dropped to about 27 percent in 2021 thanks to renewables.

While the share of renewables in electricity production in Germany dropped from about 44 percent in 2020 to just under 41 percent (estimated) in 2021 – largely due to a drop in wind power output – that was still slightly more than in 2019.

Germany’s new coalition government recently committed to boost the 2030 target share of renewables from 65 percent to 80 percent, and for all coal-fired power generation to have ceased by that year. The 2030 solar power capacity target would be doubled to 200 GW and offshore wind increased 50% to 30 GW.

New Year’s Eve Shutdowns

On New Year’s Eve, the last remaining operational unit (1288MW) at RWE’s Gundremmingen nuclear power plant was taken off the grid for good, as were E.ON’s Brokdorf (1410MW) and Grohnde (1360MW) facilities.

Furthermore, RWE also disconnected several coal-burning units – Neurath B (300MW), Niederaussem C (300MW) and Weisweiler E (300MW).

RWE notes (with a degree of bitterness) that between 2020 and 2022, it will have decommissioned power stations with a combined capacity of more than 7,000 megawatts. RWE says the remaining ~440 employees at Gundremmingen will continue working “through to the 2030s” on post-shutdown operations and deconstruction work at Gundremmingen; indicating how complex (and costly) decommissioning a nuclear plant is.

More Coal, All Remaining Nuclear To Go In 2022

Starting in April, RWE will commence a new round of nuclear and coal power decommissioning; kicking off with another 300 MW coal-burner at Neurath in April. Then at the end of the year, the company will shut down the two 600 MW units at the same location, and its Emsland nuclear power plant in Lingen.

That leaves E.ON’s Isar Ohu (1410MW) and EnBW’s Neckarwestheim 2 (1310MW) nuclear facilities, which will meet the same fate on December 31 this year.

On a related note, Politico reports the German government has lashed out draft plans by the European Commission to allow nuclear (and gas) plants to be considered “sustainable” where they can provide assurances no significant harm will come to the environment, including from the disposal of nuclear waste.

France has welcomed this, insisting the EU cannot become carbon neutral by 2050 without nuclear energy.

Related: The Simple Reason Australian Power Stations Will Never Go Nuclear.

About Michael Bloch

Michael caught the solar power bug after purchasing components to cobble together a small off-grid PV system in 2008. He's been reporting on Australian and international solar energy news ever since.

Comments

  1. Ok, then what would your comment be on ROLLS ROYCE in the UK having developed a brand new style and functioning NUCLEAR POWER PLANT. Also, at what cost to the community in Germany does this action amount to. Prices have increased everywhere renewables have been introduced. The UK thru lack of wind have produced only some 1.4% of the 46% power they expected and are currently recommissioning coal fired power stations to produce enough power for winter, as are other countries. The UK is also currently constructing a completely new coal fired power station in the place of the old WHITEHAVEN FACILITY. I find when an article is written on ONE COUNTRIES’ activities to the exclusion of all others, it creates a biased perspective.

    • Ronald Brakels says

      UK coal consumption in 2012 = 39 million tonnes
      UK coal consumption in 2021 = 7 million tonnes

    • Geoff Miell says

      Darryl,
      Ok, then what would your comment be on ROLLS ROYCE in the UK having developed a brand new style and functioning NUCLEAR POWER PLANT.

      What “functioning NUCLEAR POWER PLANT”, Darryl?

      Per a World Nuclear News piece, dated 17 Nov 2021:

      Rolls-Royce SMR Limited has submitted its 470 MWe small modular reactor (SMR) design for entry to the UK’s Generic Design Assessment (GDA) regulatory process. The review of the SMR design – based on a small pressurised water reactor – will formally begin once the government has assessed the company’s capability and capacity to successfully enter the GDA process.

      A Rolls-Royce-led UK SMR consortium aims to build 16 SMRs. The consortium – which includes Assystem, Atkins, BAM Nuttall, Jacobs, Laing O’Rourke, National Nuclear Laboratory, the Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre and TWI – aims to complete its first unit in the early 2030s and build up to 10 by 2035.

      https://www.world-nuclear-news.org/Articles/Rolls-Royce-submits-SMR-design-for-UK-assessment

      Clearly, Rolls Royce’s SMRs don’t yet exist in physical form, and at best we won’t know by operational demonstration(s) if any of the claims being made about how good (or bad) they may be are until at least the 2030s (if ever).

      I find when an article is written on ONE COUNTRIES’ activities to the exclusion of all others, it creates a biased perspective.

      I’d suggest you read The World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2021, published 28 Sep 2021. IMO, WNISRs are one of the most reliable, accurate and unbiased information sources on the status of the international nuclear industry.
      https://www.worldnuclearreport.org/-World-Nuclear-Industry-Status-Report-2021-.html

  2. George Kaplan says

    In 2020 nuclear power provided 12.6% of German power, coal provided 24.3% (this article says 27% for 2021), and (Russian?) natural gas provided 12.2%.

    Is it viable for renewable energy to replace nuclear power by the end of this year? More critically, is it possible to do so and move away from Russian natural gas to ensure energy security? Or is the new German government more worried about the possibility of climate change than the Russian troops massing on the border, and the sabre rattling coming out of Moscow? Green on the outside, Red on the inside?

    • Ronald Brakels says

      Probably a little difficult for Russian troops to mass on the German border these days. Russia is a minimum of 950 km of Poland and Belarus away.

      • George Kaplan says

        I didn’t specify whose border : )

        It’s the Ukrainian border at present, but Russia wants NATO out of eastern Europe. Whether that includes East Germany isn’t clear.

  3. I’m in no way an expert on this but the nuclear debate seems to be dividing into two camps on the ‘save the environment’ side of the equation; some arguing nuclear power is part of the solution to climate change going forward and the other side saying nuclear power is part of the problem. The difference seems to drill down to whether we are talking about large-scale nuclear stations or the smaller scale nuclear generators. I read an interesting report on clean sources of energy that rates wind and solar as the safest options followed closely by nuclear and then a long way back to the rest. I grew up in the no-nukes era and even marched ‘back in the day’ but as I educate myself on the topic and try to keep an open mind it does seem that nuclear will become a more acceptable option. When my local Greens member told me a while back that he was now open to nuclear power options I thought maybe I’d better start reading a bit more widely!

    • Robert Tait says

      Currently all nuclear power requires a nonrenewable resource and produces intractable toxic waste.

      Most environmentalists don’t like that.

      When renewables and storage had not matured, nuclear was tempting in the interim.

      New nuclear is difficult to justify at the moment, particularly in Australia.

  4. RWE, the company that is closing down these facilities, has an interesting article about repurposing “used” Audi EV batteries to provide grid storage at https://www.rwe.com/en/press/rwe-generation/2021-12-28-second-life-for-ev-batteries

  5. Des Scahill says

    Watching what other countries are doing so far as electricity generation from renewable sources is concerned, can be useful and informative.

    But it doesn’t automatically follow that what works in one country will also work here in Australia.

    So far as most developed democratic nations are concerned, each country has it’s own unique legacy such as::

    : existing power stations of varying types and ages,
    : distribution networks owned by different government and private enterprise legal structures,
    : varying degrees of public acceptance and support for renewables.

    Each country has a need to ‘transition’ from its present situation, regardless of whether a renewable or nuclear option is chosen by the country concerned.

    Those factors alone make a ‘transition’ to a 100% renewable energy supply that will fully meet any one country’s specific internal electricity demand very challenging.

    That’s especially so for countries who are also EU members. There’s around 27 of those at the moment, each of which has their own internal political and legal structures, numerous adjoining borders, political histories stretching back centuries etc.

    But within those 27 countries, you do find some who are making noticeable progress, Here’s some examples.

    Scotland – Population 5.5 million. Currently produces 32.06 GWh from renewable sources which is equivalent to 97% of its national demand.. However, it currently exports 41% of this to other countries within the EU.

    Scotland’s internal demand is in fact sourced from the following mix of:
    renewables: 69%, nuclear 25%, and gas and oil 13%

    Scotland’s remaining nuclear power plants, include some originally built during the cold war era for defense and research purposes. However its current policy towards nuclear power stations (including SMR types) is:

    “We are opposed to the building of new nuclear stations using current technologies, because and we believe that nuclear power represents poor value for consumers. This is clear from the contract awarded by the UK Government to Hinkley Point C nuclear station in Somerset, which will result in energy consumers subsidizing its operation until 2060.”
    see: https://www.gov.scot/policies/nuclear-energy/nuclear-stations/

    The wording on the above Scottish webpage seems to imply that their few remaining operational nuclear power stations will be phased out by 2030.

    France. Population 65.4 million
    Nuclear provides around 70% of France’s internal demand, and the country is thus still heavily dependent on its nuclear power sources.

    France was planning a major nuclear building program and some were pushing “for nuclear energy to be included in an EU-wide list of favoured green and sustainable investments.” according to this Reuters article at:
    https://www.reuters.com/markets/europe/edf-extend-civaux-nuclear-outage-shut-down-reactors-chooz-safety-measures-2021-12-15/

    However, according to the IAEA website France has currently capped its nuclear power capacity at it’s present level of output (expressed in TWhrs) and nuclear power will slowly but steadily be replaced by renewable sources over time..
    See: https://cnpp.iaea.org/countryprofiles/France/France.htm

    France is the world’s largest net exporter of electricity, and earns around 3 billion euros per year from it’s sale to other countries. France also aims to reduce it’s 70% level of dependency on nuclear to 50% by 2035, so it will face considerable challenges in replacing any lost export income.

    France’s dependency on nuclear mostly arose out the effects of the 1974 ‘oil shock’. At that time France decided to rapidly expand its nuclear generation capacity in order to reduce its dependency on imported fossil fuels.

    With hindsight, it looks as though France decided to help pay for their hasty expansion by over-building in order to gain revenue from electricity sales to its nearby European neighbours.such as Spain, Italy, UK, Germany, Switzerland, and Luxembourg, who were also affected by the same ‘oil shock’. Smaller countries simply couldn’t afford the outlay.

    Up till now the French public have been quite content to accept nuclear in exchange for their very low electricity unit costs arising from the spreading of costs over a large market due to their exports. However there is growing public awareness of the huge costs of decommissioning plants and the problems and risks associated with storing radioactive waste, Those costs are becoming far more apparent as older plants begin their decommissioning processes.

    Germany had a similar problem, but in their case decided to face up to that problem now, rather than spend the next 40 years or so phasing its plants out gradually. .

    On 20th December 2021, France had to close 2 of its operating plants due to the discovery of cracks in some plant infrastructure during a routine safety check.
    See: https://neftegazru.com/news/accidents/716860-france-closes-2-nuclear-plants-after-finding-cracks-in-the-infrastructure/

    The same article mentions that France also closed 2 reactors at another location which use the same technology.

    Somewhat ironically, this has occurred just when France, along with some other EU countries, has been advocating “for nuclear power to be recognised as a low-cost and climate-friendly provider of energy security.”

    There are quite a few parallels to be found in the respective stories of both coal and nuclear power stations.

    Whichever choice Australia makes, all have in common a need to deal with::
    – an inadequately maintained electricity grid that spreads for thousands of kilometres , and is highly vulnerable to extreme weather events and natural disasters of various kinds.
    – an accompanying narrative that implies demand for energy will continue to increase for the foreseeable future, despite the fact that energy prices
    are now so high that desperate consumers are doing their best to reduce their usage as much as possible.
    – an assumption that population will increase, with little allowance being made for the possibility that it might stagnate or even decline.
    – hollow assurances that there is virtually no need for anyone to be at all concerned about potential environmental impacts, because extensive management and monitoring controls put in place will adequately address those.
    – lack of leadership. We currently have a government that can’t even properly manage the comparatively straightforward task of mass vaccinating its population. If you think the same people can be trusted to successfully handle a complex transition to either nuclear or renewable power generation on a national scale over a period of some years, I’d suggest you give that some more thought.

    Using a creative logic worthy of a used car salesman trying to convince you that buying a 10 year old used car at 20 times the price of the latest model is a far better deal because of its promising future antique value, we are now being told that electricity prices will have to rise in the short-term, or at best decline very slowly, for all sorts of arcane reasons.

    What’s never mentioned of course is that the costs of closure and site clean-up have risen due to inflation and the cost of environmental clean-ups has also risen due to increased pollution. In other words, the transition delays caused by past government policies are a relevant influence on current prices.

    In effect, having subsidized the coal industry for decades, insult has been added to injury by now expecting us hapless consumers to subsidize its delayed closure. .

    At present, Australia has very little dependency on nuclear power generation, apart from research and some possible future defense needs,

    SMR technology may well play a future modest role in meeting those needs. However, SMR technology and its more automated management and remote monitoring processes could well introduce some new cyber-security risks in the future.

    As well, SMR’s are not cheap, and are only manufactured/assembled once a binding contract has been agreed and signed off. If you only buy a few of them you don’t gain much in the way of production economies of scale either.

    Australia’s ‘lack of nuclear’ has meant that so far we’ve completely avoided many of the past and future looming problems experienced in other countries.

    We don’t really need nuclear at all, renewable related technologies continue to rapidly advance. In Australia’s case there seems to me a growing risk that introducing nuclear could well cause us to end up with very expensive ‘stranded assets’ sooner than we might think.

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