Energy transition in Germany: nuclear phase-out in 999,990 years – Free University of Berlin


It was actually just a seaquake that began on March 11, 2011 at 2:46 p.m. local time off the east coast of Japan. But just 23 seconds later, the waves of the quake hit the Fukushima I power plant, 250 kilometers northeast of Tokyo.  The  eruptions lasted two minutes, and less than an hour later, 15-meter-high tsunami waves reached the nuclear facility. ©

 The y flooded the boiling water reactor units 1 to 4, destroyed the seawater pumps and several of the running emergency power generators. Because the fuel assemblies could no longer be cooled, the reactors and the spent fuel overheated. ©

 The re were core melts in Units 1 to 3, and finally explosions and fires that damaged the reactor buildings and hurled rubble onto the power plant site. Highly radioactive substances found their way into the air as steam and into the sea as contaminated water.

Hundreds of billion euros in follow-up costs

It was a man-made disaster that happened in Fukushima. ©

 The  follow-up costs are estimated at several hundred billion euros, the clean-up work will continue for decades. In Germany, the Fukushima disaster led the black and yellow federal government under Angela Merkel (CDU) to make a spectacular U-turn: the nuclear phase-out, which had been tipped over less than a year earlier, should now come again and in a more severe form. Merkel herself says that the Fukushima disaster changed her attitude towards nuclear energy: because it has been shown that “even in a high-tech country like Japan, the risks of nuclear energy cannot be safely controlled”.


 The refore, the last reactor in Germany must be shut down by December 31, 2022 at the latest. But the nuclear phase-out is not yet complete, the issue of nuclear energy in Germany is by no means history.

Not only do factories such as the EDF subsidiary Advanced Nuclear Fuels (ANF) in Lingen, Lower Saxony, continue to produce fuel elements for nuclear power plants (AKW) and export them. ©

 The  question of what to do with the waste remains unanswered after decades of using nuclear energy.

Teams from Germany and Switzerland

Incidentally, Germany is not alone in this, says political scientist Achim Brunnengräber from the Environmental Policy Research Center (FFU) at the Free University of Berlin. He heads a sub-project of the joint project “Transdisciplinary Research on the Disposal of Highly Radioactive Waste in Germany” (TRANSENS), in which 17 research teams from Germany and Switzerland are involved: “©

 The  question of final disposal is unsolved worldwide. In fact, there is still no country in a repository for highly radioactive waste from nuclear power plants. ”

Brunnengräber, together with his team colleagues Rosaria Di Nucci, Dörte ©

 The mann and Lucas Schwarz, is currently researching how societies relate to nuclear energy, currently in the form of “participatory observation”. Because the question of where a repository for highly radioactive nuclear waste should be built in Germany is being debated again these days. ©

 The  basis for this is the Site Selection Act, passed in 2013 and reformed in 2017, which provides for the search for a possible repository site with extensive public participation.

“Real laboratory” with over 1600 people

According to the law, citizens should not only be able to express their concerns, but also “help shape” the decision-making process. “You have to realize that nuclear power in Germany was historically enforced by the state from above and against the will of many citizens,” says Brunnengräber. “Today we know that a site for a nuclear waste repository cannot be found without ambitious public participation.” This process is just beginning; A “specialist conference sub-areas” was organized for the public. ©

 The  first event took place in digital form at the beginning of February, parts two and three will follow in April and June. ©

 The  political scientist describes this as a “unique and demanding real laboratory”: According to the organizers, over 1,600 people took part digitally at the first event.

Guide to the places that are inextricably linked with nuclear power.Foto: picture alliance / dpa

Achim Brunnengräber notes, however, that the term “co-creation”, as stated in the law, is “imprecise”. What does participation mean, how far does it go, and what influence does the public have? Ultimately, the Bundestag will decide on the repository location, there will be no veto and no referendum. At the same time, MEPs will not be able to ignore where public participation and the debates it has triggered have led to.

1700 castor containers

A repository location is to be determined by 2031, and from 2050 onwards to begin storing the nuclear waste currently still stored in 1,700 Castor containers. In 2080, the total of 16,000 tons of high-level radioactive waste from Germany should finally be deposited in a deep geological formation. At least for the next one million years, until the radiation has subsided to such an extent that it no longer poses a health risk to humans. ©

 The  schedule is just as demanding as the public participation.

Achim Brunnengräber says that the question of a nuclear waste repository is tricky because every attempt at a solution raises new questions: Should the repository be built underground or above ground? An above-ground warehouse would have the advantage that it would be easier to access if you change your mind in 10,000 years. At the same time, however, it is less protected from accidents or terrorist attacks. In which containers should the nuclear waste be disposed of? That in turn depends on which surface you choose: clay, salt or granite. Should the residents of a repository receive compensation payments or even compensation payments? Or would that be seen as an “immoral offer”?

Crucial question


 The  crucial question, however, is what risk is inherent in a nuclear repository. ©

 The  major nuclear disasters in Chernobyl and Fukushima showed that there is no such thing as one hundred percent security when it comes to nuclear energy, says Achim Brunnengräber: “That is the only thing that can be said with certainty.”

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Energy transition Germany nuclear phaseout years Free University Berlin


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