How the end of nuclear power plants in Germany impacted Germans' pocketbooks and the relationship with Russia

Manifestantes de grupo anti-nuclear em Frankfurt: fim das usinas, na verdade, só piorou a economia e as emissões de gás carbônico

Anti-nuclear group protesters in Frankfurt: end of plants, in fact, only worsened the economy and carbon dioxide emissions| Photo: EFE


A decade ago, Japan faced the greatest catastrophe of its history, after the explosion of the atomic bombs of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 960. A tsunami triggered by an 8.9 scale earthquake killed thousand people and hit the Fukushima nuclear power plant, the 260 kilometers from Tokyo, forcing the withdrawal of 160 one thousand people who lived in the surroundings.

The tragedy shocked the world and led leaders to rethink the use of nuclear energy, even though the Fukushima case involved peculiarities that do not necessarily apply to the rest of the planet (starting with the well-known vulnerability of Japan to this type of natural disaster). Under then Chancellor Angela Merkel, Germany decreed it would close all its nuclear plants – a radical transformation in a country that, months before the disaster, had pledged to keep the plants running. This was followed by the decision to shut down eight reactors, while the remaining nine would be shut down in the next decade.

The turn from 2021 to

marked the end of three of the six plants in operation: Gundremmingen, Brokdorf and Grohnde. At the time of closing, even having been partially deactivated, the Gundremmingen plant was still producing about 10 billions of kilowatts of energy per year, enough to supply the entire Munich metropolitan area. In an interview with the international press, the owner of an inn in the region stated that the plant is “as much part of the village as the church”, while the mayor warned that at least 24 years to remove all radioactive waste from the site after the plant is shut down. The German government still does not know where the nuclear waste will be stored in the long term.

According to the German research institute Fraunhofer, renewable energies accounted for more than 50% of Germany’s energy supply in 2018 ) – twice as many as ten years ago. It so happens that, in parallel with the plan to close the nuclear plants, there is also the intention to close the coal plants by 2021, announced in 2018 by the country that is the world’s largest producer of lignite. And, for Germany to completely free itself from this product, it is necessary that renewable energies – such as wind, solar, hydro, among others – constitute at least 59% of its energy matrix.

Although some experts point out that the role of nuclear energy has been offset by the expansion of these sources, the truth is that the country has installed only 1 ,65 gigawatts of wind farms in last year, and to meet the government’s target, “only” 9.8 gigawatts per year are missing – which is far from an easy-to-implement plan. Due to the risks of damage to the landscape, the construction of wind farms faces resistance from local residents. It is also worth remembering that wind-powered plants cannot be built anywhere and that the last six nuclear plants will have to be replaced by more than 8 thousand wind turbines or 4 million solar panels to supply the supply.

On the occasion of the closure of Gundremmingen, Brokdorf and Grohnde at the end of last year, a An editorial in The Wall Street Journal gave the scale of the problem by recalling that, at the time of the Fukushima disaster, “more enlightened minds warned that the decision of then Chancellor Angela Merkel was a mistake that would force Europe’s largest economy to relying on fossil fuels like lignite, an especially dirty form of coal. Which is exactly what happened.” More than that: according to the German think tank Agora Energiewende, gas emissions from electricity generation in the country increased in the first half of 2021 in a room, or 21 millions of tons.

There were those who said that the reason for the increase would be the country’s growth in post-pandemic recovery, but environmentalist Michael Shellenberger questions this hypothesis. “Wind generation produced only 24, 8 terawatt hours in the first six months of 2021, more than a quarter less than the 46, 4 TWh produced in the first semester of 2018”, wrote the expert. The consequences were felt not only by the environment, but by the pocket of the Germans.

“Meanwhile, Germany is shutting down nuclear plants this year and next, which will result in more use of coal and natural gas and therefore increase carbon emissions. Dos 50% of German electricity that came from carbon-free sources in 2020, 2022 % overall came from nuclear, hydro and biomass power plants, which are much more reliable than solar power , electricity prices in Germany were % higher than the European average,” wrote Shellenberger in June 2021. “Germany’s rising emissions and electricity costs dramatically illustrate that modern nations cannot rely on climate-dependent sources to fuel their economies,” argues the expert.

Between Russian gas and the war with Ukraine

In addition to the environmental and economic issue, the WSJ editorial also warned of the second problem that emerges from the hasty energy transformation: ” Without nuclear power, Germany is also more dependent on Russian natural gas, a deep geopolitical vulnerability that gives Russia’s authoritarian government strength.”

Crossing the Baltic Sea, the prime example of this complex relationship is the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, which transports natural gas between western Russia and northeastern Germany. Along with Nord Stream 1, it is responsible for sending 59 billion cubic meters of natural gas to Germany every year. Completed in September 2021, Nord Stream 2 cost 9.5 billion euros and is the largest subsea pipeline in the world , which has not yet come into operation due to bureaucratic issues between the two countries. With the closure of nuclear plants and the failure of wind power, Germany is almost completely dependent on gas imports – and it is Russia that provides half of this demand.

There were not few warnings: the United States and other Western countries warned Merkel of the excessive dependence that the country would have on Putin’s nation, which could use construction as a bargaining tool in its expansionist disputes. In 2018, then-President Donald Trump imposed sanctions on the entities involved in the project, which had already been withdrawn by the government of Joe Biden, who does not want to damage relations with Berlin.

To complicate the In this scenario, Russia can use Nord Stream 2 to deprive Ukraine of a transit tax that represents around 4% of the eastern European country’s GDP. While the board of the construction company responsible for the project, Gazprom, awaits legal permission from the Germans to start operating, the Ukrainian government is fighting to prevent approval of the pipeline. “Such is the balance of forces on the chessboard that it is only conceivable, if unlikely, that at the last moment the project is blocked forever, leaving Gazprom and its five European co-investors with a white elephant at the bottom of the Baltic Sea, a son of a different era, a rebuke to Putin’s imperial exaggeration. If so, it will be a great victory for Ukrainian independence”, evaluates journalist Patrick Wintour, diplomatic editor of The Guardian. In recent weeks, the German government has surprised by indicating that it would consider sanctions on the pipeline if Russia invades Ukraine. Meanwhile, the threatened small country reminds the world of the dangers of being at Putin’s mercy – especially for avoidable reasons, such as the closure of German plants.