General – Germany
Germany’s early closure program for its nuclear power stations will cost a staggering 1 billion tons in additional CO2 emissions, a study has found.
If Germany had closed coal plants early instead, as climate justice would demand, it could achieve net zero status more easily and save massive additional climate damages.
Germany has six remaining nuclear reactors, due to be closed down next year, removing a huge source of zero-carbon electricity from the German economy. If these reactors were kept in operation, a complete exit from coal would be possible by 2028, ten years earlier than Angela Merkel’s government has planned. This would be in accordance with the court case won by German youth fighting for a safe climate future.
This is one of the key findings from a new report on how Germany could use nuclear power to alter the waning course of its Energiewende. The One Billion Tons report is commissioned by Ökomoderne e.V., which aims to use science so nature can thrive, and executed by Think Atom, a Finland-based not-for-profit research firm. The timing of the report is critical as natural gas prices spike, coal plants are running out of stock, and a new coalition government is forming after elections in which climate was a main issue.
The report shows that it has become increasingly clear that Germany’s path to climate neutrality has not nearly been enough. After 20 years and hundreds of billions of euros spent, renewables like wind, solar and biomass account for only 20% of energy use. Around 75% comes from fossil fuels: burning coal, natural gas and oil.
To meet its own goals, Germany needs to speed up its CO2 reductions drastically. The new report shows that this is only realistic if the nuclear shutdown is abandoned.
“Given that we need to act very fast and reduce emissions significantly in the 2020s, keeping the currently operating nuclear plants open is the quickest and surest way to do that,” says energy analyst Rauli Partanen, lead author of the One Billion Tons report. “It is highly risky and irresponsible towards future generations to try to solve the climate challenge without one of the most capable technologies we have at our disposal.”
While refurbishing the remaining reactors will surely cost money, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has shown that extending the operation of nuclear reactors is the most cost-effective way to produce low-carbon energy, and recommends countries to maximize their safe usage. For Germany, keeping its nuclear reactors open is one of the cheapest ways to reduce emissions.
Mark Lynas, a leading environmental campaigner in the UK, says the report is another proof of environmentalists across Europe taking an evidence-based approach. This growing movement, writes Lynas in the foreword to the report, “puts the joint climate and biodiversity emergency at the top of the priority list, and is not trapped by ideological mindsets fixed in the 1970s.”