|Fig. 1: Although base German electricity prices are low, the high taxes and renewable surcharges make energy very expensive in the country.  (All figures in eurocents. Source: Wikimedia Commons)|
Nuclear power generation in Germany was once widely supported and agreed upon by the general public and politicians throughout the country. It only became controversial after the Chernobyl disaster and has been marred in politics ever since. After Chernobyl, no further reactors were built, calls were made for the reactors to shut down over the fear of nuclear power. In 1998, this plan was to be realized when the liberal coalition government (SPD/Greens) agreed upon a 32 year life span for all nuclear reactors (much less than the 60 in the US).  All reactors would be phased out by 2022 and that would be the end of nuclear in the country. The Green party, specifically, had built most of its campaign platform on the single issue of phasing out nuclear energy and could not let down its voter base by being passive on the issue.
There was a reversal of fortune for nuclear in 2010, when a pro-nuclear coalition was elected to the Bundestag (CDU/FDP), and enacted legislation that allowed the reactors to continue to be online for the standard 60 years.  Then, Fukushima happened and the course of nuclear in the country was rerouted once more. Nuclear energy being so intertwined with the bad publicity, no major party was in support of the reactors anymore. It appears now that they are finally done for and will be phased out by 2022. In 2011, 8 reactors over the age of 32 were shut down effective immediately. This created a huge gap in energy demand vs supply in the country, so the country had to import energy and figure out how they were going to close their energy production deficit.
|Fig. 2: Increases in clean energy have been exponential in recent years. (Source: Wikimedia Commons).|
Germany decided to use the phaseout of nuclear as a springboard for a huge investment in renewable energy, known as "energiewende" in German, to make up for the closing nuclear plants.  In order to see this plan through, the German government has shoveled billions of dollars into the program through various subsidies and creation of the actual wind/solar farms (Fig. 2). This plan has worked so far to make up for the lost power production from the reactors, but energy prices have spiked as a result the of the expenses and are about 3x higher than here in the US (Fig. 1). Also, the increase in renewables is not reducing the carbon emissions of the country because although the new power is being used has zero emissions, the old nuclear plants did not emit carbon either. This leaves Germany still highly dependent on carbon rich lignite and hard coal for a lot of its energy needs which keeps emissions high. 
The phaseout of nuclear, while very popular in Germany, has doubled the price of energy and not helped the country lower its carbon footprint much. There are benefits to energiewende, however, the renewables industry in Germany is at the forefront of innovation and employs around 400,000 people, much of which is due to the phase out of nuclear and the government's energy policy.  The end of nuclear power in Germany, while irrational from an economic perspective, is what the public wanted and still wants in the wake of Fukushima. It looks like the power source will always be marred in controversy because of its awesome potential and destructive capability even though it is, for the most part, a clean and safe source of energy.
© Connor Hasson. 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.
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