They were all supposed to be shut down as early as December 31, as stipulated in the coalition pact between the Scholz government’s parties, but then the energy crisis triggered by the Russian gas embargo forced an extension of the life of the last remaining active plants. This time, however, there will be no further postponements: by April 15, the Isar-2 nuclear power plant in Bavaria, Emsland in Lower Saxony and Neckarwestheim-2 in Baden-Württemberg, with capacities of about 1,400 gigawatts each, will be shut down permanently.
The fate of the three reactors that entered service in 1988 was already sealed regardless of the outcome of the political battle to include nuclear power in the EU renewable energy taxonomy. Well before that dispute, Berlin had passed laws banning plant operators from purchasing new fuel rods, effectively forcing them into a reduced level of operation.
Now begins the long phase-out stage: it will start with the physical dismantling of the plants, while waiting to see what the final destination of the radioactive waste will be. After the “decay period,” the spent fuel will be transferred to the appropriate interim storage centers for at least a five-year period, before the “decommissioning phase,” which will take decades.
But it is still unclear where the final repository (Endlager) will be that will store the thousands of tons of toxic barrels that will be the overall legacy of the German nuclear program started in the 1960s and stopped by former Chancellor Angela Merkel 20 days after the Fukushima disaster.
According to the Scholz government’s timetable, within the next eight years it will be necessary to find “an underground cavity at least one kilometer deep” that will be able to safely house all the waste categorized as high-level waste “for at least one million years.”
The lack of nuclear-generated power will not be a problem for the security of energy supplies. “The situation is under control, thanks to high levels in gas reserve plants, new LNG terminals and, not least, the marked increase in renewables,” said Economy Minister Robert Habeck, leader of the Greens.
He also pointed out that “the construction of new nuclear power plants has always turned out to be an economic fiasco, whether in France, the UK or Finland, while German operators are no longer interested in the sector. In the future, our energy system will be completely different: by 2030, Germany will produce 80 percent of its energy from renewable sources.”
This was a direct rebuke to those opposed to the exit from nuclear power: from the FDP, the liberal government partners, whose proposal to keep the power plants on until 2024 was rejected, to the Christian Democrats, who have claimed that Saturday will be “the darkest day for climate protection,” as denounced by former Health Minister Jens Spahn, who accused Habeck of “preferring to let coal-fired power plants run – the climate killer par excellence, CO2-dirt guzzlers – rather than climate-neutral ones.” It matters little to the CDU that the myth that nuclear power plants are “climate neutral” has been scientifically disproved by the highly reputable German Federal Environmental Agency, with its analysis of the heavy pollution caused by uranium mining, power plant operation and the permanent storage of toxic waste.
Who will pay for the shutdown of the power plants? Thirteen years ago, the federal government and energy operators made a deal for compensation: in effect, the state will pay them €33.2 for each megawatt-hour not produced. This means €2.4 billion from the public coffers to the companies RWE, Vattenfall, Eon and Enbw as a form of compensation for the early closure of non-obsolete plants, such as the relatively young Krümmel nuclear plant operated by Vattenfall.
In particular, RWE will collect €860 million in compensation for the short life of the Mülheim-Kärlich nuclear plant (it operated for only 100 days), while together with Eon and Enbw it will receive another €142 million to compensate for the investments made on the eve of the decision to shut down nuclear power. However, decommissioning charges will be fully borne by the companies. For the three power plants closing on Saturday, this is expected to cost €500 million to €1 billion for each plant.