Phillipsburg nuclear plant (Credit: EnBW)The 1402MWe Philippsburg 2 pressurised water reactor unit in Germany was shut down permanently on 31 December 2019, leaving just six commercial nuclear plants still operating in Germany.

Philippsburg 2, which began commercial operation in April 1985, was closed as part of the German government’s nuclear phase-out policy. In 2020 Philippsburg 2’s two cooling towers will be demolished, and decommissioning will take 10 to 15 years to complete.

Since its commissioning, Philippsburg 2 has generated about 10TWh  of electricity a year and over 355TWh during its lifetime. This is approximately one-sixth of the German state of Baden-Württemberg's total electricity requirements.

EnBW, which operates Philippsburg, has been producing electricity at two plants, Philippsburg 2 and Neckarwestheim 2, but has already applied to dismantle both. Its remaining three reactors – Obrigheim, Neckarwestheim 1 and Philippsburg 1 – no longer generate electricity and are being dismantled. The closure means EnBW will now have to import additional power from neighbouring countries and regions.

After the 2011 Fukushima-Daiichi accident Germany decided to shut down the country’s nuclear fleet by 2022. There are six nuclear plants in commercial operation in Germany, down from 17 in 2011.

Closing Germany's remaining nuclear plants by the end of 2022 will pose problems for power generation and for meeting climate targets as Germany also prepares to abolish its coal industry.

Germany will have to replace more than 40% of its electricity sources over the next two decades. Coal-fired power stations accounted for more than a third of its generation, with the seven remaining nuclear plants supplying about 10%.

Consequences of Germany's nuclear phaseout

Earlier this year several high-profile German industrialists argued that the government’s decision to phase out nuclear power was a mistake.  

VW Group chairman Herbert Diess said: “If we’re really serious about climate protection, the nuclear power plants should run for longer.”

In August Die Welt newspaper said in an editorial that to remain at the forefront of European energy and climate policy, Germany must be open to all low-carbon technologies, which includes nuclear energy, at least for the foreseeable future.  

However, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said in December that Germany will continue with the planned phaseout.

US economists at the University of California at Santa Barbara, University of California at Berkeley, and Carnegie Mellon University, in a paper released on 30 December by the National Bureau for Economic Research, said the German nuclear phaseout is causing 1100 additional deaths a year as a result of air pollution.

The increased use of coal-fired power to replace shuttered nuclear power plants has led to a 12% increase in local air pollution, which is costing $8.7 billion a year, more than 70% of the phaseout’s total annual costs of $12.2 billion. The report said the costs of the phase-out outweigh any benefits. The economists found just $2 billion a year in benefits, mainly in money saved through not having to manage nuclear waste and from accident avoidance.

The phaseout is also damaging for climate change. The economists estimate that reactor closures have resulted in an increase of 36.3 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year, costing $1.8 billion – 13% more emissions than if the plants had remained online, the report said. They noted that the increase in renewable energy had also led to air pollution damages of $7.6 billion and climate damages of $1.3 billion. The phaseout is also increasing power prices.

Photo: The Phillipsburg nuclear power plant in Germany (Credit: EnBW)