Following the disaster at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear facility in March, the quickest European nation to react was Germany, suspending the operation of some of its oldest nuclear facilities before eventually announcing plans for an energy revolution.The vision? A future without nuclear power made possible by a heavier reliance on natural gas from Russia and sustainable energy sources such as wind farms.
Much of Germany’s reaction to events in Japan can be explained by the country’s history with nuclear energy. The turn of this century saw the country attempt to introduce plans to abandon nuclear power, but the government made a big U-turn on this in 2009, realising that almost of quarter of German power was generated by nuclear facilities.
So, the new plans can either be seen as a bold step towards a complete energy revolution, or subject to change in the future as Germany’s policy on energy continues to see-saw.
With public protest emerging, more and more pockets of opinion turned on nuclear power in Germany. The result was the formation of the Green Party in the late 1970s.
Though initially a student protest party, the Greens would prove to have a hand over nuclear policy when they became part of a ruling coalition in the 1990s.
However, despite the formation of the Green Party, Germany's Social Democratic Party affirmed and supported nuclear power in 1979. However, seven years later they backtracked.
The Social Democratic Party, who had supported nuclear power in 1979, passed a resolution after 1986 to abandon this form of energy within 10 years. However, under a federal government led by the Christian Democrats, governmental support for nuclear power was maintained until 1998 when a new coalition government was formed (including the Green Party).
With the new coalition government in power, formed by the Social Democrats and the Greens, Germany said it would start plans to phase out all nuclear power facilities.
Talks with energy companies were carried out in order to arrange for the abandonment of nuclear power. With negotiations stagnating the government threatened to withdraw nuclear power suppliers' licenses if they did not attempt to comply.
An agreement was reached by 2000.
The agreement also limited the lifetime of nuclear facilities to an average of 32 years (previously the average had been 35 years). However, the agreement did also ensure that no nuclear facility would be prematurely closed down while this government was in power.
When the government changed in 2009, the incoming Christian Democrat and Liberal Democrat coalition looked to reverse the anti-Nuclear policy of previous years and by 2010 had signed all the necessary paperwork to do so.
Nuclear reactors built before 1980 were able to obtain a renewed licence for eight years, while those built afterwards could have their licence renewed for 14 years.
The first action taken by Germany was to suspend the use of seven of the country's oldest nuclear reactors. Another reactor which was already offline but not fully decommissioned was also earmarked never to open again.
Controversially, the companies will continue to be taxed by the government until they shut down plants
Before March 2011 Germany used 17 nuclear reactors to provide the country with almost a quarter of its power.
In addition to the eight reactors already set for decommission, the country planned to shut down a further six by 2021.
That would leave three of Germany's 17 nuclear power facilities open until 2022 to make sure there is no huge drop in power supplies.
Germany is trying to cut its carbon footprint to meet goals that it and the EU has set for cutting emissions. Digging and burning more coal would take the burden off nuclear power, but it would also cause a dip in cleaner energy.
Vladimir Putin has promised that the Nord Stream will be able to match the power of the lost nuclear plants by 2012
The Nord Stream gas line that stretches from Russia, under the Baltic Sea and into Germany, cuts out Eastern Europe and will allow the Germans to buy gas from Russia without incurring transportation fees from nations like Ukraine and Poland.
There's been positive news. Recent research suggests that Germany's largest offshore wind farm generates 12 times more power than the country's first nuclear power facility.
Germans pay a 3.5 euro cent per kilowatt-hour tax, roughly €157 ($205) per year for a family of four, to support research, investment, and subsidizing renewable energy.
And there's been unexpected problems — such as the need for diesel-powered motors to keep sensitive parts of the machines always moving.
'In other words, before Germany can launch itself into the renewable energy era Environment Minister Norbert Röttgen so frequently hails, the country must first burn massive amounts of fossil fuels out in the middle of the North Sea -- a paradox as the country embarks on its energy revolution.'
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