German Nuclear Dismantlement

Christian Castellanos
March 5, 2017

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2017

Fig. 1: The Philippsburg Nuclear Power plant, which is still operational today. (Source: Wikimedia Commons.

The Fukushima nuclear disaster had far-ranging consequences for countries other than Japan. The disaster quickly sparked outrage and anti-nuclear demonstrations in Germany, leading to nearly 100,000 people protesting in Berlin shortly after the disaster occurred. [1] Two days later, Germany announced that it would halt plans to extend the life of its other nuclear plants. [2] The following day, Angela Merkel announced that all plants that went online before 1980 would be temporarily closed: this accounted for 7 of Germany's 17 reactors. [3] Two weeks later, the anti-nuclear movement came to a head: a record 250,000 people in Germany demanded that Germany shut down all nuclear reactors. [4] By the end of March, eight of Germany's 17 reactors had been temporarily shut down.


On May 30, 2011, Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, announced that all nuclear reactors in Germany would shut down by 2022. [3] In September 2010, she had committed to extending the lives of Germany's nuclear reactors for an average of 12 years. [3] The Fukushima incident, and the resulting public outrage, as well as other political circumstances such as upcoming elections, had forced a change of policy. Germany would need to find alternative sources for all of its nuclear energy by 2022, which at the time accounted for 23% of its energy output. [3] Additionally, Germany plans to cut electricity usage by 10% and rely on renewables for 25% of its energy demands by 2020. These policies, in addition to other energy demand and efficiency plans for the German energy sector, are known as Energiewende. [3]

Additional goals of the Energiewende program include the reduction of greenhouse gases by 40% in 2020 and 80% in by 2050. [5] As of 2015, renewable sources accounted for nearly a third of electricity consumed in Germany, and Germany is now the world's largest solar market. [5]

By August 6, 2011, 8 of Germany's 17 nuclear plants had been shut down permanently. [6] Fig. 1 shows the Philippsburg plant, which had its decommissioning delayed. Plans to shut down the remaining plants by 2022 are still in place, as each of the remaining reactors immediately applied for a decommissioning license. [6] Decommissioning is done on a case-by- case basis. Some facilities are financed publicly and easier to shut down; others are owned by commercial companies active in the energy sector. [6] Decommissioning has not been smooth, as private nuclear plants sued the government over the mandatory shutdown and lost profits. [7] Many in the German government felt that the big nuclear energy companies should take the brunt of the decommissioning costs and waste storage due to the serious profits made by these companies. [7]


The transition to Energiewende upon its unveiling was initially criticized by critics, including those in other ruling parties and nuclear industry groups. [1] Other objections to Merkel's announcement included the belief that periods of bad weather or poor wind would lead to Germany importing energy from other countries, due to the decreased nuclear energy output in Germany. [8] While Germany has yet to suffer from blackouts, there were periods of worry for Germany's federal government in the following years. [9] The volatility of Germany's weather, compounded by the different weather experienced in Northern and Southern Germany and the disparate layout of Germany's energy grid, has been chiefly responsible for current energy woes. [9]

German carbon emissions rose slightly in 2015 due to the excess production of energy from renewable plants, despite increases in the number of renewables. [10] Due to the volatility of Germany's weather, renewables are capable of supplying most of the energy to Germany's grid. However, even during times of peak sun and wind, these plants are forced to remaining running for two reasons: the variability of these sources, as well as an inability to quickly ramp down production from non-renewable sources. [10] As a result, these energy companies are left producing excess energy. [10]

Renewables account for nearly a third of Germany's energy output as of May 2016. [10] Bouts of cold weather, lack of sun, or poor wind especially (or any combination therein), can force Germany to rely on non- renewable sources. Variability of weather draws justified attention to renewable-only systems: they're subject to the whims of weather and the environment without proper storage solutions. More time, in order to create novel long-term storage technologies capable of storing excess renewable energy during periods of high output for future use, may be necessary before completing the transition to renewable-only systems.

© Christian Castellanos. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] "Germany Stages Anti-Nuclear Marches After Fukushima," BBC News, 26 Mar 11.

[2] K. Coleman, "Germany Suspends Nuclear Plant Plans," NPR, 14 Mar 11.

[3] H. Pidd, "Germany to Shut All Nuclear Reactors," The Guardian, 30 May 11.

[4] "Atomstreit Trifft Koalition Mit Voller Wucht," Der Spiegel, 26 Mar 11.

[5] H. Graupner, "What Exactly Is Germany's 'Energywende'?" Deutsche Welle, 22 Jan 13.

[6] B. Brendebach, "Decomissioning of Nuclear Facilities: Germany's Experience," IAEA Bull. 571, No. 1, April 2016, p. 24.

[7] G. Chazan, "Eon and RWE Sue German Government Over Nuclear Shutdown," Financial Times, 15 Mar 16.

[8] "Germany Nuclear Shutdown by 2022 May Mean Blackouts, Merkel Warned," The Guardian, 32 May 11.

[9] M. Day, "Germany Facing Power Blackouts," The Telegraph, 15 Oct 12.

[10] R. Martin, "Germany Runs Up Against the Limits of Renewables," Technology Review, 24 May 16.