End of the stretching operation: Don't be afraid of the nuclear phase-out

End of the stretching operation: Don’t be afraid of the nuclear phase-out

The nuclear phase-out in Germany is coming, but now really. Why that’s a good thing – and has little to do with energy security.

But now really. The end of nuclear power generation in Germany is supposed to come on April 15th. It will be 62 years since the first nuclear power plant in Germany went into commercial operation. This was followed by a first agreed exit, a withdrawal, a second exit, finally a couple of agonizing weeks of discussion about stretch and reserve operations and a chancellor’s word of power last year.

It’s good that it’s finally over now. Anything else would require the ordering of new fuel rods, and would therefore be a renewed exit from the phase-out. That would not only strain the confidence in the energy policy of the Federal Republic to the point of ridicule. It would be wrong on that point too.

The most important reason for phasing out nuclear energy remains risk

The discussion of the last few months has pushed it out of sight, but the central argument for phasing out nuclear power has always been the enormous risk of the technology. In 2011 it obviously needed a catastrophe like Fukushima to demonstrate that “unlikely” is not “impossible” and how terrible the consequences are in an emergency.

An energy crisis does not change these risks, nor does the fact that parts of political Berlin, a good 12 years later, have a rather short memory. Incidentally, last year in France showed just how vulnerable such a power plant park is after several decades of operation – none of the German power plants still in operation is younger than 25 years. There, numerous nuclear vehicles had to be offline for a long time due to maintenance work.

The checkered history of the nuclear phase-out in Germany was accompanied again and again by the warning of the “blackout”: Without nuclear power, the advocates of the technology warned, the lights could go out in Germany.

A blackout is not to be expected

This is not to be expected. Nuclear power was most recently responsible for around seven percent of net electricity generation in Germany. In the short and medium term, the loss of these capacities has long been planned, even if, in view of the energy crisis, coal is now playing a greater role than hoped. According to the Federal Network Agency, the supply can be secured even in the combination of nuclear phase-out and coal phase-out as early as 2030.

The bigger question marks are in the long term. Because there is still a long way to go before the goal of a reliable, climate-neutral power supply: wind power, photovoltaics, biomass and other renewable capacities will have to be expanded rapidly in the coming years. At the same time, a number of flexible power plants need to be built, which are initially operated with gas and then with hydrogen and can step in on windless, dark winter days. Storage tanks that collect surpluses on other days are also necessary. All the generation capacities have to be connected by a grid that is able to transport electricity intelligently, quickly and over long distances. And last but not least, an electricity market design is needed that creates the economic conditions for all of this.

None of this becomes easier if money and political energy continue to be invested in risky, cumbersome power plants that are ultimately not decisive for the success of the energy transition in Germany.

The task description for energy policy is not trivial, and many questions remain. But nuclear power, at least this can be said, will not be part of the answer.

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