Three reactors are going offline: nuclear power is coming back – but not in Germany

Three reactors go offline
Nuclear power is coming back – but not in Germany

In a few days, three of the six still running nuclear power plants will go offline. In the meantime, the construction of new reactors is planned in other countries. In Finland one has just been put into operation.

The end of 2022 should end with nuclear energy in Germany, then the last reactor in this country will go off the grid – the phase-out of nuclear energy has been a done deal since 2011. And the new traffic light government – as stipulated in the coalition agreement – “continues to exclude” nuclear energy. According to the new Federal Environment Minister Steffi Lemke, an extension is out of the question. So while in Germany the course is in the direction of renewable energies from wind, water and sun, some European countries are taking a completely different path. Even new nuclear reactors are being built.

The EU countries deal with nuclear energy completely differently. One reason for this is that the EU sets an energy policy framework, but does not tell its member states how to generate their electricity. There is currently a dispute revolving around the question of whether nuclear power can be classified as “green”. The classification is important because it is intended to provide investors with guidance on sustainable forms of energy.

At the EU summit in Brussels last week, hours of discussions ended with no joint conclusions. France, but also countries like Poland and the Czech Republic, opposed countries like Germany, Austria and Luxembourg with their opinion of classifying nuclear energy as environmentally friendly.

“I think that’s the wrong way”

Chancellor Olaf Scholz downplayed the discussion after the EU summit, saying that the question of the classification of nuclear power was “overrated”. It is about assessments of companies that are more important for investors. On the part of the Greens, however, resistance is stirring: “I think that’s the wrong way,” said Lemke on Wednesday in the “early start” of ntv. “Nuclear power is not sustainable. A technology that does not have a solution for disposing of toxic waste cannot be sustainable.” The EU is expected to make a joint decision on the list of sustainable forms of energy in mid-January.

Germany will completely say goodbye to nuclear power at the end of 2022, more than eleven years after the decision to accelerate nuclear phase-out, which was made after the nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan in 2011. For years technology had divided society. For the three nuclear power plants in Brokdorf in Schleswig-Holstein, in Grohnde in Lower Saxony and in Gundremmingen in Bavaria, the authorization for power operation expires on December 31, as the federal government announced on Tuesday. The other three kilns, Isar 2, Emsland and Neckarwestheim, will go offline at the end of 2022. In any case, the share of nuclear energy in the German power grid is constantly falling. By 2030, the share of renewable energies should be 80 percent. However, Germany will probably have to import nuclear power from neighboring countries in the future as well.

From a technical point of view, the nuclear power plants could remain on the grid longer and, because of their low CO2 emissions, are also beneficial for climate protection. But: “For the energy industry in Germany, the nuclear phase-out is final,” says the general manager of the Federal Association of Energy and Water Management (BDEW), Kerstin Andreae. Many energy operators have already switched to renewable energies.

France, Belgium, the Netherlands: nuclear power, yes please

Quite a number of European nations are not following the German path. Above all France continues to rely on nuclear energy and will therefore feed nuclear power into the European Energy Association. In November, French President Emmanuel Macron announced the construction of new nuclear power plants. This is the only way to ensure the country’s energy supply. There are currently 56 reactors in operation in France. France ranks second among the world’s largest producers of nuclear power. France also justifies sticking to nuclear energy with the aim of becoming carbon neutral by 2050.

Belgium already made the phase-out of nuclear energy legally binding by 2025 in 2003. Until then, the last seven nuclear reactors should be switched off. But there is already resistance to this. There is a desire within the government to extend the life of some reactors by a further ten years, and the construction of new nuclear power plants is also under discussion. So far, 40 percent of Belgium’s electricity needs have been met with nuclear energy. By the end of the year, the government has to officially confirm the phase-out by 2025.

the Netherlands on the other hand want to put more money into nuclear power, as stated in the coalition agreement of the new government. It is planned to extend the only nuclear power plant in the Netherlands and to build two new power plants. Similar to Macron, Prime Minister Mark Rutte justified the commitment to nuclear power with the “fight against global warming” and security of supply.

Also Finland upgraded in terms of nuclear power. The operating company Teollisuuden Voima Oyj announced that the Olkiluoto 3 reactor (OL3 for short) was started up at 3.22 a.m. on Tuesday. The reactor is expected to reach full capacity in June, when it is estimated to cover 14 percent of Finland’s total electricity demand. The radio station Yle spoke of a “historic day for Finnish nuclear power”. The example also shows that the construction of a nuclear power plant is easier announced than implemented: The third nuclear reactor at the Olkiluoto nuclear power plant was put into operation more than a decade later than planned. Olkiluoto is one of the two nuclear power plants in Finland. The plant is located on the west coast of Finland around 250 kilometers northwest of Helsinki. OL3 should actually have gone into operation in 2009, but there were repeated delays and increased construction costs.

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