Nuclear power plant, including in Germany, is said to be one of the most efficient power generators ever invented by human. Compared to power plants that eat on fossil fuel, nuclear power plant is also far cleaner in terms of producing airborne pollutants that will harm this planet.
Germany believed in those things and built 17 nuclear power plants to generate electricity in the country. Those power plants contributed a lot to the country’s energy consumption, as data stated that in 2010 it gave around 22% of their total energy.
However, something has changed nowadays that the country is shutting down its nuclear power plants one by one. Germany even planned to completely eliminate nuclear power plant from the country by the year 2022.
What happened? What will happen next? Here in this article, we will talk about this unique case of energy generation.
Nuclear Power = Clean Energy?
Nuclear power is a dilemma for this planet’s energy generation. In one hand, it can provide us a lot of energy with only a little resource consumed, but in the other hand it poses danger to the planet. That’s why, opinion about it is split into two.
Based on its carbon emission rate, nuclear power plant belongs to the cleanest energy generations method. According to Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), United States of America can avoid 476 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2019 thanks to this kind of power plant.
It also consumes 75 times less space on land to generate the same amount of energy compared to solar power plant. Let alone the amount of waste it produces from generating electricity is also so small, because nuclear fuel is as dense as 1 million times traditional energy resources.
But we all know that nuclear power plants will produce radioactive waste. The waste needs to be processed heavily before making it harmless to the nature, and if not processed thoroughly it can keep its radioactivity for centuries.
Let alone how nuclear power plants will pose its surroundings with such includible danger in its worst-case scenario. Two of the biggest nuclear disasters we know, Chernobyl and Fukushima, have not healed the wounds they left completely.
Why Germany Is Shutting Them Down?
Since opinions about nuclear power plant is split into two, it is fair for countries to take either stance. Germany once stood on the supporting stance, but it all changed after one incident caused havoc in the whole world.
In 2014, a devastating tsunami struck Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan, following an earthquake a moment before. It triggered the meltdown of three nuclear reactors, and released more than 1 million tons of radiation-laced water to the ocean.
Fukushima nuclear disaster apparently caused bigger upset in the world’s nuclear energy generation than Chernobyl. Such huge nuclear disaster triggered anti-nuclear movements all around the world, including in Germany.
Germany’s antinuclear lobby quickly put the pedal into the metal with support from people all around the country who took to the streets to protest. The government then agreed to pass a legislation to decommission all reactors in the country to prevent such disaster to happen there.
Nowadays, the country has shut down 11 nuclear power plants, leaving 6 left. By 2022, the prime minister of Germany Angela Merkel hoped that the rest of those nuclear power plants will stop operating completely.
Is There Any Problem?
Closing down power plants that could contribute one-fifth of the country’s electricity demands is surely not a small step. It is indeed a huge step in energy generation that the country considered as something for a greater goods.
It poses them to several problems. One problem is their commitment to Paris Agreement to reduce carbon emission. The amount of energy needed by people in the country stays the same, but with less generation from nuclear energy, they need to get bigger support from other sources including fossil fuel.
“Germany has recently confirmed it would miss its 2020 emissions targets by a wide margin,” said Yves Desbazeille, director-general of FORATOM, a Brussels-based trade association for nuclear energy in Europe. This is the reason why Germany decided to shut down the power plants gradually.
Second is finding replacement to already-shut-down nuclear power plants. We will talk about it later, but we all know that energy transition is never an easy job to do. Even moving from pricey coal to cheap solar is not an easy job, let alone from the cheap nuclear to others.
“If it had decided in 2011 to phase out 20 gigawatts (GW) of coal plant capacity instead of nuclear, it would have reached its emission targets and now could be rightly recognized as the European climate champion,” said Desbazeille.
Replacement To Nuclear Power
Nuclear power plant was not chosen by Germany to be their alternative energy generator by rolling dice. Nuclear, just like mentioned above, contribute to zero carbon emission and the densest energy source based on its land and resource consumption.
“In the EU, more and more countries seem to understand that the full decarbonization of their energy systems, in line with the Paris Agreement and EU 2030 climate and energy goals, can’t be achieved without nuclear energy,” Desbazeille explained.
That’s why, replacing such strategic source of energy is not an easy job either. Germany is planning to use non-hydro renewables to replace the missing piece in their energy generation. GlobalData predicted that this plan will be able to fill the void, and even outperform nuclear by 2030.
“Non-hydro renewable power capacity is expected to continue growing to establish itself as the dominant source of energy by 2030, when it is expected to account for 71.9% of total installed capacity. On the other hand, it is expected that Germany will have phased out nuclear energy by 2022,” said GlobalData’s power analyst, Chiradeep Chatterjee.
Wind and solar energy are the two knights that will go to the frontline to fight this war. “The share of coal power, which was 22.1% in 2017 in the total capacity mix, is expected to decline to 9.3% in 2030,” Chatterjee said.
The plan itself is good, but it needs comparably good execution to make it happens. But from 2022 to 2030, we might not find Germany in good number for carbon emission rate. Is this a good decision made by the government? Let’s wait and see.