In a sharp reversal of policy, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has announced the country will move to phase out all nuclear power by 2022.
The decision comes after the Ethics Commission for Security Energy, which Merkel set up to review nuclear power following the Fukushima disaster in Japan, recommended all 17 of Germany's reactors be shut down permanently.
According to Environment Minister Norbert Rottgen, the seven oldest reactors which were taken offline for safety review immediately following the beginning of Fukushima's problems will never be used again. One of the older nuclear facilities will be brought back online to provide backup power until 2013. The rest of the nuclear reactors will be phased out by 2022. Minister Rottgen said, "It's definite. The latest end for the last three nuclear power plants is 2022. There will be no clause for revision."
Germany represents the largest economy to move away from nuclear energy. Although, it is not the only European to eliminate the energy source. Last week, Switzerland decided nuclear energy was not part of its energy future. The country's Federal Council authorized a gradual phase out of all existing nuclear facilities.
These decisions could reverberate through major industrial nations. At a summit last week, the G-8 states agreed to review the security and safety of nuclear facilities. They also agreed to increase the strength of the International Atomic Energy Association. The United States continues to affirm its commitment to nuclear power, while Japan, which relies on nuclear for the majority of its energy supply, has increased its investment in renewables, but states nuclear energy will remain a necessary energy source in the near-term.
Today's announcement culminates a tumultuous year for nuclear energy in Germany. In 2010, Merkel's government reversed a 2001 decision to phase out Germany's nuclear power by 2021. Instead, her government pledged increase the lifespan of the facilities by 12 years. Merkel said nuclear was a necessary bridging technology to a new, clean energy future. Currently, nuclear power provides 11% of the country's energy and 23% of its electricity.
However, the Fukushima disaster created such a strong anti-nuclear response from Germans that Merkel and her center-right Christian Democratic Union party were forced to re-evaluate their decisions.
The situation became so hot that an April state election in Baden-Wuerttemberg largely became a referendum on nuclear power. As a result of their nuclear platform, the Greens party secured a record number of votes in the election, leading the Christian Democrats to lose governorship of the state for the first time in nearly 60 years.
Chancellor Merkel has seen her political livelihood take a serious hit because of her pro-nuclear stance. Now, however, she will have to develop an energy plan that will be able to fill the significant hole left by the removal of nuclear energy. The Ethics Commission for Security Energy says this hole can be filled by renewable energy and energy efficient technologies within the decade.
Image credit Till Westermayer via Flickr
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