Germans asked to keep reactors in operation

15 October 2021

Germany's phase-out of nuclear energy will only lead to the country missing its 2030 carbon emissions target, 25 leading foreign and German environmentalists, journalists and academics have written in an open letter to the German public. They call on German politicians to be "brave enough" to change legislation to at least postpone the shutdown of the country's reactors.

The Grohnde plant, which is due to shut down at the end of 2021 (Image: PreussenElektra)

The letter - titled Dear Germany, please leave the nuclear power plants on the grid and published on 13 October in Welt - notes a recent draft government report that predicts that, based on the policies in place in August 2020, Germany will largely miss its target of a 65% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2030 compared with 1990 levels. "It is very difficult to imagine that the measures adopted since then will completely close this gap," it says.

The authors add: "However, Germany is not exhausting all the options available to the country. The elephant in the room is that Germany is increasing the carbon emissions of its energy system by stepping out of nuclear power. And this at a time when the decarbonisation of the electricity industry is the main strategy for effectively achieving an energy system with net-zero emissions."

Following the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan in March 2011, the government of Chancellor Angela Merkel decided it would phase out its use of nuclear power by the end of 2022 at the latest. Prior to the accident, Germany was obtaining around one-quarter of its electricity from nuclear power.

In August 2011, the 13th amendment of the Nuclear Power Act came into effect, which underlined the political will to phase out nuclear power in Germany. As a result, eight units were closed down immediately: Biblis A and B, Brunsbüttel, Isar 1, Krümmel, Neckarwestheim 1, Phillipsburg 1 and Unterweser.

By the end of this year, Brokdorf, Grohnde and Gundremmingen C are scheduled to shut down, with the country's final three units - Emsland, Isar 2 and Neckarwestheim 2 - set to close at the end of 2022.

"This loss of low-carbon electricity generation with an installed capacity of 8 GW, which currently accounts for 12% of Germany's annual electricity production, will inevitably lead to around 60 million tonnes of additional carbon emissions per year because more fossil fuels have to be burned in order to provide the necessary replacement service," the letter states. "This will increase national emissions by 5% compared to the reference year 1990."

The authors say Germany cannot afford such an "unnecessary setback" at a time when its emissions are already rising sharply again after the COVID-19 pandemic. They note in 2021 emissions are expected to be "only" 37% below the level of 1990. This is still outside the 2020 target of 40% below 1990 levels, which has already been missed. The expansion of renewable energies and the construction of north-south transmission lines are also currently being delayed, they say, while the recent steep rise in natural gas prices is favouring the burning of coal.

"You could still achieve your climate target for 2030. You could still change course and change your priorities so that the coal phase-out comes before the nuclear phase-out. All that is needed is a climate emergency ordinance with an amendment to the Nuclear Power Act, which puts the extension of the life cycle for the power plants from 2030 to 2036 back into force.

"Are your politicians brave enough to make this specific change, which would clearly have a positive impact on emissions, on your behalf at a critical time in the climate crisis? This contingency measure - a simple postponement of the nuclear phase-out - would rightly deserve the respect of the younger generation and future generations."

Among the signatories of the letter are: physicist Wade Allison from the University of Oxford; energy analyst Malcolm Grimston of Imperial College London; climate researcher James Hansen of Columbia University; Rainer Klute, chairman of German pro-nuclear group Nuklearia; British environmentalists and writers Mark Lynas and George Monbiot; Rauli Partanen, founder of Finland's Think Atom; US documentary filmmaker Robert Stone; Geraldine Thomas, molecular biologist and director of the Chernobyl Tissue Bank, Imperial College London; and Myrto Tripathi, founder of France's Voix du Nucléaire.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News