Germany’s Energy Revolution goes from strength to strength as the Grafenrheinfeld nuclear reactor closes

One less nuclear reactor threat to the people of Europe with the early closure of the Grafenrheinfeld nuclear reactor.

Greenpeace ship MV Beluga II passing nuclear power station Grafenrheinfeld on the river Main. Greenpeace activists on board holding banner reading: "Stop Nuclear Risks. Go 100% Renewables! Thanks Energiewende" in three languages (German, English and Japanese). The nuclear power plant Grafenrheinfeld will be shut down end of June 2015. © Andreas Varnhorn / Greenpeace

Germany’s 33 year-old Grafenrheinfeld nuclear reactor will be shut down permanently on June 27th as the country’s phase out of nuclear power continues. It’s the first reactor to close since Germany passed its Atomic Energy Act in July 2011 which requires the closure of all commercial nuclear reactors by the end of 2022.

The reactor is being shutdown seven months early as the disastrous economics of nuclear power and Germany’s drive for clean and sustainable energy have made it impossible for its owner E.ON to operate the reactor and make a profit.

E.ON and other large nuclear utilities only have themselves to blame. They failed to anticipate the growth of renewable energy and so they failed to invest in it. At the same time, electricity prices have fallen making their nuclear power plants even less profitable.

That said, even E.ON is waking up to the new energy future of Germany. “The transformation of Europe’s energy system continues to offer us attractive growth opportunities in renewables and distributed energy,” said the company in a report from March this year.

But what are the implications of the closure of Grafenrheinfeld? Won’t it leave an energy gap?

In short: no.

Since 1981, Grafenrheinfeld reactor was the cornerstone of electricity production in Bavaria but that was before the renewables revolution. Now its closure will be barely noticed. There will be no blackouts and the security of supply is guaranteed.

The simple explanation is that over the last 15 years Germany has embraced renewables. The share of renewable energy in electricity generation grew from six percent in 2000 to around 27 percent in 2014, spread across wind, solar, and bioenergy. Germany is a major net exporter of electricity, reaching record levels in 2013 and 2014.

“This is going smoothly… No one, no company, no private citizen will feel that the reactor power is off the grid,” says Bavarian Economy and Energy Minister Ilse Aigner.

So what’s next? It’s clear that Germany doesn’t need nuclear power and that renewables are more than up to the job of leading the country into a future of sustainable, safe electricity.

But the job isn’t finished. At current growth rates, Germany is likely to reach its target of 35 percent by 2020 for renewable electricity. However, the overall share of renewable energy generation remains quite low at 11 percent because the power industry is being left to its own devices.

Germany will probably not reach its target of 20 percent of its total energy provision being renewable by the end of this decade without further government support.

So while it is excellent news from Grafenrheinfeld, there is still much to do. In the mean time, with the closure of this reactor, we see the victory of renewables over nuclear power. Germany is leading the way globally to the safe, clean energy future. The rest of the world needs to follow.

Justin McKeating is a nuclear blogger for Greenpeace International, based in the UK.

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