Germany's Nuclear Power Phase-Out Post-Fukushima

Molly Mitchel
November 24, 2018

Submitted as coursework for PH240, Stanford University, Fall 2018


Fig. 1: Protestors against nuclear power in Germany, 2011. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Germany was one of the first countries to pursue nuclear energy, which it began commercial production of in the 1960s. This was largely a result of the fact that Germany, among other countries in the European Union, does not have natural resources, such as oil reserves or natural gas. [1] Yet these initial efforts faced pushback in the formation of a strong anti-nuclear movement in the 1970s that spread across the country. Fig. 1 depicts an image of young protestors against nuclear power in Germany. Protests against nuclear power continued into the 1980s and 1990s, and precipitated the formation of the Green Party in 1980. One of the central goals of the Green Party was (and is) to phase-out nuclear power. [1] The German movement against development of nuclear power was quite effective as it mixed protest, court activity, and strong electoral performances. [1] Often, lawsuits by the anti-nuclear movement were successful in slowing or even stopping plant construction altogether. [1]

By 2002, Social Democrats and the Green Party were in power, Chancellor Gerhard Schroder enacted laws to phase- out nuclear energy across the nation. However, when Angela Merkel was elected Chancellor and came to power, she announced a plan to reverse this phase-out by 2010, with the intent to extend nuclear power plant operation from eight to ten years. Indeed, in 2010, Germany obtained 22.4% of its electricity nationwide from nuclear power, which translated to 133 TWh. [1]

Fukushima Disaster Impact

The nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan, in March 2011 came at a time when leaders across the world were embracing the idea of nuclear power as an alternative to fossil fuel energy production. [2] The Fukushima disaster involved the meltdown of three nuclear reactors as a result of a tsunami triggered by an earthquake. [3] After the disaster, there was a major shift in Germany's attitude towards nuclear power. [3] In the wake of the Fukushima disaster, over 40,000 people protested against nuclear power across Germany. By June 2011, Merkel decided to shut down eight of Germany's seventeen reactors. Furthermore, the remaining plants would be shut down altogether by 2022. This aggressive action against nuclear power was supported by politicians across parties and the general public. By 2016, of Germany's electricity production of 651 TWh, only 85 TWh came from nuclear power. [1]

While the nuclear industry initially put up a fight against this phase-out, faced with consensus among politicians and the public, it ultimately gave up its resistance. [4] Indeed, the nuclear industry has since accepted the phase-out, and has proposed to hand over all nuclear installations to the government, along with the issues of decommissioning and storage. [4] Fortunately, radioactive waste disposal has been the responsibility of the federal government since 1976, so the German government is well prepared. [2]

Effects of Nuclear Phase-Out in Germany on European Electricity Sector

Something to consider in the phase-out of German nuclear power plants is the rise of coal-fired plants and the construction of gas-fired plants to supplement energy lost from nuclear power plants. [3] Thus, the 2011 decision, similar to the original phase-out decision of 2000, has triggered higher investments in traditional energy production in fossil fuel and natural gas plants. Shutting down nuclear power plants has also influenced the wider European electricity sector because Germany has started to import more energy, and its exports (many from nuclear power) have decreased dramatically. [3] Furthermore, fossil fuel plants emit more carbon dioxide than nuclear plants, which has put pressure on Germany and the European Union's goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore, it's likely that other sectors will reduce their carbon dioxide emissions to reach lowered greenhouse gas emission goals. [3]


The industry that Germany (and the rest of the European Union) looks toward most is the integration of renewable energy sources into the current energy framework. [4] There are two prominent examples of legislation that have contributed to the renewable energy movement and the nuclear phase-out. The first measure is to encourage investment in offshore wind energy and build upon the pre-existing electricity network to expand it. [2] Second, the Federal Environment Ministry plans to revise the current Atomic Energy Act to guarantee that nuclear waste from Germany cannot be shipped abroad. [2]

Other countries in the European Union have had various reactions to Germany's nuclear power phase-out. France and Sweden both criticized Germany's rejection of nuclear power, while Austria and Switzerland both supported Germany's new policy. Indeed, Switzerland even decided to follow suit and has made steps to phase-out its nuclear power program across the nation. [2] In other countries, including the United States and China, concern about nuclear power plant safety has reemerged, and plants are currently being stress-tested and evaluated more rigorously. [2] Furthermore, the impact of Germany's nuclear phase-out socially cannot be overstated. Anti-nuclear sentiment has only grown worldwide. Looking forward, Germany's phase-out of nuclear power will likely be cited by opponents to nuclear power in the future. [2]

© Molly Mitchel. The author warrants that the work is the author's own and that Stanford University provided no input other than typesetting and referencing guidelines. 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] S. E. Wiliarty, "Nuclear Power in Germany and France," Polity 45, 281 (2013).

[2] L. Kramm, "The German Nuclear Phase-Out After Fukushima: A Peculiar Path or an Example for Others?" Renewable Energy Law and Policy Review 3, 251 (2012).

[3] M. Fürsch, "German Nuclear Policy Reconsidered: Implications for the Electricity Market," Econ. Energy Env. Pol. 1, 39 (2012).

[4] F. Kunz and H. Weigt, "Germany's Nuclear Phase Out: A Survey of the Impact since 2011 and Outlook to 2023," Econ. Energy Env. Pol. 3, 13 (2014).