Germany to shutter all nuclear reactors by 2022

General view of the reactor building at the Neckarwestheim nuclear power plant on March 21, 2011 near Neckarwestheim, Germany.

Tess Vigeland: Looking across the pond, Germany is going -- cold turkey -- off nuclear energy. That is the word out of Berlin.

Right now, nuclear power plants provide 22 percent of the country's electricity -- same as us, by the way. But a decade from now, all that power will come from alternative sources. Today in Washington, Germany's ambassador explained a little bit why. And the world, and the global energy industry, were watching closely.

From the Marketplace Sustainability Desk, Scott Tong reports.


Scott Tong: German ambassador Klaus Scharioth said that after Fukushima, nuclear energy simply looks too risky.

Klaus Scharioth: There are very complicated technologies which you cannot get under control 100 percent.

Germany helped develop nuclear power in the 1930s, and had what he called "a love affair" with the atom -- until Chernobyl.

Western Europe was downwind. And back then?

Scharioth: You couldn't drink milk for four weeks, you couldn't eat vegetables, you still can't eat certain types of berries now, 25 years later.

It's not a bad idea to ditch nuclear now, because it's about to get more expensive. Industry consultant Alan Madian says new safety rules will mean higher costs for the industry.

Alan Madian: The increase in nuclear costs will provide an umbrella for other technologies.

Germany wants wind, solar and other renewables to make 80 percent of its electricity by 2050. But how do you store the energy to use when it's not windy, or not sunny? The technology's not there yet.

Michael Leibreich is at Bloomberg Clean Energy Finance. He says in the global clean-tech race, Germany hopes its companies will solve these problems first.

Michael Leibreich: The countries and companies that are first in this space are positioning themselves for the global development of these industries.

The trade-off is German citizens will pay a premium for clean energy. If Germany pulls it off with no blackouts, Leibreich figures other countries may follow. If it can't, those nuclear plants may run longer than we think.

In Washington, I'm Scott Tong for Marketplace.

About the author

Scott Tong is a correspondent for Marketplace’s sustainability desk, with a focus on energy, environment, resources, climate, supply chain and the global economy.

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