Op-Ed: Germany, a Pioneer in the Nuclear-Free Era


Isar II power plant at work. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

On April 15, Germany officially ceased operation of its last three nuclear power plants, Emsland, Isar II, and Neckarwestheim II. The country will no longer produce electricity from any nuclear power plants.

This marks a important point in history; the beginning of the end of the atomic power era and the world’s transition to uses of renewable energy like wind and hydroelectric power.

Two rallies were held on both sides of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin: on one side, members of the anti-nuclear Green Party were happily celebrating their victory, while on the other side, conservative demonstrators opposed to the closure of the nuclear power plants held a march to protest against the government’s irresponsibility.

Today, shutting down nuclear power plants faces several difficulties. The ongoing war in Ukraine has limited access to energy in Europe, including Germany, and shutting down nuclear reactors would mean another brutal winter for the population.

However, in the long run, the shutdown of nuclear power plants will be a good move, not only to ensure the safety of the people but also to promote the development of related industries in the country. From an environmental point of view, the benefits of shutting down nuclear power plants in Germany are apparent.

Despite the mixed calls, the German government’s decision is historic. It represents the first step into an era of safer, more stable new energy sources. But for the world, there is still a long way to go.

Although nuclear energy is a low-carbon energy source, potential radiation contamination and safety hazards exist. All nuclear power plants in the world use the fission reaction of atomic nuclei to release energy, which is converted into electricity by energy conversion. As a result, a meltdown or explosion of a nuclear facility can release large amounts of radioactive material into the environment.

People exposed to severe radiation die instantly. Those exposed to less intense radiation can experience nausea and vomiting, followed by darkening and ulceration of the skin, leukemia, malignant tumors, genetic diseases, and even mutations.

The most famous nuclear power plant accident in history occurred at Chernobyl in 1986. The explosion at the plant caused radioactive material to be ejected into the atmosphere in large quantities. In addition, the combustion allowed soot to continue to enter the environment with radioactive material. The release process lasted ten days, with the explosion causing an estimated 400 times the radiation of the Hiroshima bomb. The nuclear radiation released from the accident quickly covered all of Europe, and to this day, cesium 137 can still be detected in the soil in parts of Europe.

Furthermore, the Fukushima nuclear accident in 2011 occurred even closer to American shores. In contrast to Chernobyl, the atomic material leaked from the Fukushima plant spread over a large area with the help of ocean circulation, and 15 days after the accident, radioactive material spread throughout the northern hemisphere.

Fearing the same catastrophic event, the Greens in Germany insisted that the government abolish the use of nuclear power plants. They claim that in the event of an explosion, the people of a relatively small country would be irreparably affected. “A reactor accident in Germany would make large parts of the country uninhabitable,” Volker Quaschning said, a professor of renewable energy at the Berlin School of Technology and Economics. “


Meanwhile, the Greens argue that Germany’s abandonment of nuclear energy could stimulate the development of new renewable energy sources. With the disappearance of nuclear energy, Germany’s research and development funds for nuclear power plants and related technologies will be invested in developing new green energy sources, such as wind and solar. By 2030, Germany aims to generate 80 percent of its electricity from renewable sources such as wind and solar.

“It provides investment certainty for renewable energy,” Niklas Höhne said, a professor of the mitigation of greenhouse gases at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, “renewables will be much faster, cheaper, and safer than expansion of nuclear energy.”

Despite the mixed calls, the German government’s decision is historic. It represents the first step into an era of safer, more stable new energy sources. But for the world, there is still a long way to go.