In the letter, published by Welt on 13 October, the authors, including the high-profile British environmental columnist George Monbiot and former editor-in-chief at Die Zeit, Theo Sommer, said “Germany is in danger of missing its 2030 climate target, despite all its efforts”.
They said that shutting nuclear power plants would increase carbon emissions and result in Germany missing its 2030 climate target to cut emissions by 65% relative to 1990 levels. “It is very difficult to imagine that the measures adopted since then will completely close this gap,” the letter said.
“You could still achieve your climate target for 2030,” the letter said. “You could still change course and change your priorities so that the coal phaseout happens before the nuclear phaseout. All it needs is a climate emergency ordinance with an amendment to the Atomic Energy Act, which puts the lifetime extensions for the power plants agreed in 2010 back into force for 2030 to 2036.”
The letter said the “elephant in the room” is that Germany is increasing the carbon emissions of its energy system by phasing out nuclear energy. “And this at a time when the decarbonisation of the electricity industry is the main strategy to effectively achieve an energy system with zero net emissions.”
The authors of the letter based their assessment on a draft government report, which projects that without further action, Germany will reduce emissions by just 49% instead of the 65% it is legally obliged to.
The letter said Germany needs to keep nuclear power running instead of closing its six remaining nuclear plants, which provide 12% of German electricity. At the end of 2021, three of the remaining reactors – Gundremmingen-C, Grohnde and Brokdorf – are to be shut down for good. One year later, the last three – Neckarwestheim-2, Emsland and Isar-2 – will be taken offline for good.
They argue that closing the six nuclear plants would produce an additional 60 million tonnes of carbon emissions annually because they would be replaced by fossil fuel burning ones.
Consequently, German emissions would increase by 5% in regards to the 1990 emission levels, making that elusive 2030 65% goal even harder to reach.
The authors called on politicians to be brave enough to implement such concrete changes with unequivocally positive impacts on emissions as the world is facing a climate crisis.
In 2010 chancellor Angela Merkel’s government 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 July, Ms Merkel defended her decision to end the country’s use of nuclear power, but acknowledged that it will make it harder to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the short term.