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Germany will shutter the nation’s three remaining nuclear energy plants on Saturday, marking an end to the economic bellwether’s utilization of the power source despite threats to energy security posed by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Former German Chancellor Angela Merkel approved the gradual closure of the nation’s nuclear plants following the 2011 nuclear meltdown in Fukushima, Japan. The closure of Emsland, Neckarwestheim II, and Isar II, the remaining three nuclear plants in the country, was slated to occur last year but was delayed until this month over concerns about energy security, since Germany imported more than half of its natural gas reserves from Russia ahead of the war.
“The risks of nuclear power are ultimately uncontrollable; that’s why the nuclear phaseout makes our country safer, and avoids more nuclear waste,” German Environment Minister Steffi Lemke, a member of the Green Party, said at the end of last month, according to a report from German state-funded media outlet Deutsche Welle.
The popularity of nuclear energy in Germany rose amid the soaring energy prices in the early 1970s. The Chernobyl nuclear meltdown in 1986 provoked widespread hesitance toward the power source and inaugurated decades of politically charged debate over nuclear energy policy, according to an analysis from the World Nuclear Association. Nuclear energy once accounted for one-third of electricity supplies in Germany.
The Netherlands and Poland will meanwhile expand their nuclear systems while Belgium is delaying a previously enacted phaseout. Some nations, on the other hand, proceeded with shutdowns of nuclear facilities despite catastrophic increases in energy prices induced by the conflict in Ukraine. Switzerland, for example, slowed production at one nuclear power plant to avoid raising nearby river temperatures and thereby protect local fish populations.
The elevated energy prices severely impacted the continent’s economy in the fall and winter as a number of manufacturers in central Europe shuttered their operations due to the cost increases. Several nations meanwhile imposed mandates for power usage, prohibiting residents from raising their thermostats or lowering their air conditioners beyond certain levels.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced last year that she would introduce standards for European Union member states to reduce “overall electricity consumption” funded by redistributing profits from oil and gas companies.
“We are proposing a cap on the revenues of companies that produce electricity at a low cost. These companies are making revenues they never accounted for, they never even dreamt of,” von der Leyen said. “In our social market economy, profits are good. But in these times it is wrong to receive extraordinary record profits benefitting from war and on the back of consumers. In these times, profits must be shared and channeled to those who need it the most.”
The European Union, in accordance with the European Green Deal and the Paris Climate Agreement, abides by the goal of becoming “a climate-neutral society” by 2050. Though von der Leyen has acknowledged that low hydropower generation caused by droughts is partially responsible for high energy prices in Europe, she said that “the climate crisis” is the ultimate impetus for the weather conditions and called for the elimination of all fossil fuel dependence.
Policymakers in the United States have similarly asserted that rising energy prices must increase the urgency of a transition toward renewable power. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm contended last year that the “only way out” of “boom-and-bust cycles” in energy prices is “deploying clean energy.”