The decision was taken in the wake of the Fukushima-Daichi nuclear accidents in Japan 10 years ago. Critics have said the move places a double burden on Germany as it seeks to cut carbon emissions to zero by 2045.
“There are other countries that choose differently and in doing so it will be easier for them, in some ways, to achieve climate neutrality,” Ms Merkel told reporters in Germany. “I still believe that in the long term nuclear energy isn't a sustainable form of energy production.”
The phaseout of nuclear power by the end of 2022 has made Germany more reliant on coal over the coming years compared to France or Britain. But the German government has also committed to ending the burning of coal by 2038, a goal Ms Merkel said could only be achieved by significantly expanding the use of renewable energy and relying on less-polluting natural gas as a bridge technology.
She rejected the idea that a future government might reverse the nuclear decision, saying that “for Germany, the die is cast” and called instead for greater efforts to expand production of hydrogen, a carbon-free fuel that experts say will be needed by the country's industry.
In 2010 Ms Merkel’s government had decided to extend the life of the country’s 17 nuclear power plants until 2036 at the latest. But it changed that policy after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan that triggered the shutdown of Fukushima-Daiichi. In the months that followed, Ms Merkel’s government decided to phase out nuclear power altogether by the end of 2022.
In December 2016, Germany’s constitutional court ruled that the phaseout was lawful, but said the companies affected were entitled to compensation.
Today Germany has six nuclear power plants in commercial operation. According to government statistics they provided 64.3 TWh of electricity in 2020, or 11.3% of total gross electricity production.