Phasing out nuclear

The 1986 reactor catastrophe in Chernobyl finally made everyone realize what the risks of nuclear power are. But climate change has since made it clear that our current energy supply system also poses tremendous risks. The energy sector is taking advantage of this new situation to play one risk off against the other; in the process, nuclear energy is now being sold as a way to combat the greenhouse effect. After all, the argu­ment goes, nuclear energy offsets fossil energy, thereby reducing carbon emissions.

While correct on the surface, this claim leaves out a number of important issues. For instance, under the Schroeder government Germany resolved to decommission its nuclear plants after 32 years of service. While we are waiting for the remaining plants to be shut down, power providers have a great incentive to increase sales in order to keep future technologies from getting started. As a result, they are not telling people how to conserve energy, which would lower demand, nor are they implementing renewables themselves.

year, four years later overall carbon emis­sions would be back at their original level61 provided that Germany implements an energy policy focusing on greater efficiency and renewables.62

Phasing out nuclear power plants would therefore speed up the transition to the Solar Age. And there would be another benefit – the risk of nuclear energy would be done away with without increasing the greenhouse effect.

Nuclear energy is a dying branch of power generation. Over the past 15 years, more plants have been taken off-line than have been connected. And that trend will presumably continue in years to come. On liberalized energy markets, power providers can hardly be expected to be interested in building nuclear plants for economic reasons. Such plants are simply too expen­sive up front and take too long to complete. On closer inspection, it turns out that large energy conglomerates actually do not want to expand nuclear energy, but merely keep the ones already in operation running – despite the considerable risks.

If Germany shut down its nuclear plants soon, the result would be great innovation and production in new energy technologies. The markets for sustainable energy tech­nologies would grow quickly, which belies the claim that we would only increase carbon emissions by doing away with nuclear power. In 1996, the Institute of Applied Ecology demonstrated in a phase­out scenario that there would only be a temporary increase in emissions if nuclear were phased out completely, but that increase would quickly be compensated if power production facilities are completely revamped. Indeed, even if all of Germany’s nuclear plants were switched off within a

While a quick phaseout of nuclear power would increase carbon emissions in the short term, emissions would actually drop even faster than under the status quo over the mid to long term if an energy transition policy focusing on efficiency and renewables were pursued. A recent study conducted by EUtech and Greenpeace confirms these findings.

The results are taken from a study conducted by the Institute of Applied Ecology based on figures from 1996


CO2 emissions in millions of tons per year





Energy transition


Figure 11.19 Phasing out nuclear

Source: Oko-Institute, 1996, EUtech and Greenpeace: Klimaschutz: Plan B, 2007


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