Is Germany's Nuclear Shutdown a "Bad Idea"?

Is Germany's Nuclear Shutdown a "Bad Idea"?

Climate activist Greta Thunberg says it is "a very bad idea” for Germany to shut down its zero-emissions nuclear power plants in favor of coal. Thunberg’s statement comes within the context of a long-standing debate. The country originally planned to shut down all existing reactors by the end of 2022, but increasing energy pressure resulting from the war in Ukraine has led to a re-evaluation. Though the government has agreed to extend the running times for two nuclear plants, they have also permitted several coal power plants to reactivate.

Tagesschau: Greta Thunberg | Why Germany should focus on nuclear power instead of coal, October 12, 2022.

Sky News: Ukraine War | Germany looks to coal to survive winter energy crisis, August 30, 2022.

WION: Embracing the ‘dirty fuel’ | Russia’s gas choke sends Europe back to coal, June 24, 2022.

Sky News Australia: Germany to keep two nuclear power plants on standby, September 5, 2022.

Several members of Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s coalition, including Finance Minister Christian Lindner, are pushing for an even longer extension for the closing nuclear plants. "I welcome the support of Fridays for Future founder Greta Thunberg for the FDP position to keep our nuclear plants on the grid. In this energy war everything that generates electricity must be on the grid. The reasons speak for themselves -- economically and physically," Lindner stated. Others maintain that the shutdown must proceed.

Germany is not the only country wrestling with big decisions about nuclear power, as a result of changing activist priorities and the reality of aging infrastructure. Reactors in countries including France and the US are aging rapidly, while in 2021, nuclear power provided less than 10% of electricity globally for the first time in 40 years. China is one of the few countries increasing nuclear production, adding five new nuclear reactors to the grid in the past 18 months.

Bloomberg: German Energy Crisis May Lead to Nuclear Plant Extension, August 22, 2022.

DW: Should German nuclear power plants run longer?, June 24, 2022.

Bloomberg: How China Plans to Win the Future of Energy, March 15, 2022.

Why This Matters

Major climate organizations, including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), concur that nuclear power is not the perfect carbon-free energy source -- but it can be a critical part of the solution. Nuclear plant closures are often associated with increasing emissions as countries like Germany pivot to coal -- rather than renewables -- in an effort to rapidly establish energy independence.

Third Way: Why We Need To Save Our Nuclear Power Plants, February 3, 2022.

Al Jazeera: What’s the cost of Europe’s shift back to coal? | Counting the Cost, August 27, 2022.

Sky News: What you need to know about coal, November 4, 2021.

DW: How coal made us rich | And why it needs to go, February 19, 2021.

Small Reactors, Big Impact

Earlier this year, the EU designated gas and nuclear power as "green” investment options. The decision has been highly controversial within the bloc -- Austrian Environmental Minister Leonore Gewessler, for example, called the labeling system an "irresponsible and unreasonable” greenwashing scheme with "incalculable risks.” In fact Austria has filed legal action with the European Court of Justice.

Euronews: Austria to take EU to court over 'greenwashing' of gas and nuclear, July 13, 2022.

But countries need not look to fossil fuels to address the energy crisis -- war and climate change are twin threats. "Every war is a disaster. On many levels,” Thunberg says. "But we must be able to focus on different things at the same time.”

The B1M: Why Nuclear Power is Making a Comeback, October 12, 2022.

Small Nuclear Reactors (SMRs) could provide a safer alternative to traditional nuclear plants in the quest to decarbonize and establish energy independence. They’re cheaper, easier to build, generate less waste, and more secure. As energy expert Alan Ahn writes for WW0’s Front Lines, "perceptions of nuclear energy continue to be shadowed by the past” -- emerging technologies, including nuclear fusion reactors and spent fuel recycling initiatives, can flip the political script on nuclear.

CGTN: China is building world's first commercial land-based SMR, August 22, 2022.

Tomorrow’s Build: These Mini Nuclear Reactors Can be Built Anywhere, April 26, 2022.

The Economist: Nuclear power | The clean, green energy dream?, August 11, 2022.

Financial Times: Nuclear is bouncing back, August 1, 2022.

Bloomberg: EU's Breton | No Green Transition Without Nuclear Energy, December 17, 2022.

Bloomberg: Why Private Billions Are Flowing Into Fusion, July 14, 2022.

Science Time: The Source of The Universe | Can Nuclear Fusion Help us Reach Type 1 Civilization?, August 13, 2022.