Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative-led coalition announced plans yesterday to close all Germany's atomic power plants by 2022, in a move that put the seal on a dramatic policy U-turn in the immediate aftermath of Japan's Fukushima nuclear disaster.
The decision – which makes Germany the biggest industrial power to completely renounce atomic power as an energy source – will include a planned 10 per cent reduction in electricity consumption and a doubling of renewable energy sources to 35 per cent by 2020.
Announcing the move Chancellor Merkel, who only nine months ago put forward plans to extend the use of nuclear power, declared: "Our energy system has to fundamentally change and can be fundamentally changed. We want electricity to be safer and, at the same time, reliable and economical."
In a sudden response to the crisis at the Fukushima nuclear plant triggered by the 11 March 11 and tsunami, Ms Merkel ordered the immediate shutdown of the seven oldest of Germany's 17 reactors and set up a panel to review the use of nuclear power.
The disaster triggered anti-nuclear protests across Germany, and led to a dramatic rise in support for the Green party. Some 56 percent of Germans are opposed to nuclear power. Critics nevertheless accused Ms Merkel of giving in to popular pressure.
Her government said yesterday that the seven closed reactors would never be used again and that an eighth plant at Krümmel, which had been plagued with technical problems, would also be shut down. Six other reactors are to go off line by 2021. The three newest plants will be closed by 2022.
Around a quarter of Germany's energy is supplied by nuclear power. The government plans to make up the shortfall through massive investment in renewables such as wind power and solar energy. "Germany is going to be ahead of the game," a Greenpeace spokesman said yesterday.
" The messages to its industrial competitors is that you can base your energy policy on renewables."
Sceptics have argued that if renewables fail to meet projected targets, Germany will be forced to rely more on coal. However the government is already planning to cut pollution from lignite-fired power stations by developing a system of carbon bunkering which involves trapping and storing carbon emissions. Building insulation programmes and increasing machinery efficiency are expected to play a central role in the plan to cut electricity consumption by 10 per cent.
But the proposals to substantially increase Germany's already large number of wind farms have started to provoke opposition. They will almost certainly involve the construction of so called "energy autobahns" – or kilometres of new power cables supported by thousands of unsightly pylons.
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