Germany’s governing coalition said it will shut down all the country’s nuclear power plants by 2022. The decision, prompted by Japan’s nuclear disaster, will make Germany the first major industrialized nation to go nuclear-free in years.
It also completes a remarkable about-face for Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right government, which only late last year had pushed through a plan to extend the life span of the country’s 17 reactors — with the last scheduled to go offline in 2036.
But Merkel now says industrialized, technologically advanced Japan’s helplessness in the fact of the Fukushima disaster made her rethink the risks of the technology.
“We want the electricity of the future to be safe, reliable and economically viable,” Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters on Monday after overnight negotiations among the governing parties. “We have to follow a new path.”
While Germany already was set to abandon nuclear energy eventually, the decision — which still requires parliamentary approval — dramatically speeds up that process.
Germany’s seven oldest reactors, already taken off the grid pending safety inspections following the March catastrophe at Japan’s Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, will remain offline permanently, Environment Minister Norbert Roettgen said.
The country’s energy supply chain “needs a new architecture,” necessitating huge efforts in boosting renewable energies, efficiency gains and overhauling the electricity grid, Merkel said.
The determination of Germany, Europe’s largest economy, to gradually replace its nuclear power with renewable energy sources makes it stand out among the world’s major industrialized nations. Among other members of the Group of Eight, only Italy has abandoned nuclear power, which was voted down in a referendum after the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.
Until March — before the seven reactors were taken offline — just under a quarter of Germany’s electricity was produced by nuclear power, about the same share as in the U.S.
Energy from wind, solar and hydroelectric power currently produces about 17 percent of the country’s electricity, but the government aims to boost its share to around 50 percent in the coming decades.