Biblis nuclear plant

PhotoEssay

As Germany announces the withdrawal of all nuclear power from its grid, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is suspected of acting on motives other than nuclear safety.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has found herself under scrutiny since the announcement of her decision to shed all of Germany's nuclear power – less than six months after extending the lifespan of the plants.

Merkel has cited safety in the wake of the Fukushima disaster as the reason for the decommissioning of the 17 plants – but it does neatly coincide with her earlier pledge in 2005 to remove nuclear power in the same timescale. Has Japan's misfortune been exploited by the German Chancellor to u-turn on her u-turn?

  1. The village of Wattenheim stands in the shadow of Biblis nuclear cooling towers near Frankfurt. Merkel's decision to close the nuclear generators comes as a surprise to a country with one of the most stringent nuclear safety protocols in the world and no nuclear-related deaths.
  2. Journalists peer into the stilled control rods of power plant Kruemmel, 30km from Hamburg. The reactors failed to start correctly in 2009 after a temporary shut-down, leading German environment minister Sigmar Gabriel and anti-nuclear protestors to urge postponement of the restart of other German power plants.
  3. Isar is one of seven plants built before 1980 that have already been shut down, all of which contribute to 23 per cent of Germany's power. Output from renewable sources currently stands at 17 per cent; Merkel intends to grow that output to 35 per cent by 2022. In 2009 Germany invested the most in new renewable capacity, with the highest amount of new solar-power systems in the world connected to the grid that year.
  4. A plume of water vapour rises from the cooling tower of the Neckarwestheim plant. Germany has vowed to replace all nuclear power with renewables, meaning it will become an innovative leader in green energy sources, eclipsing plans from China, the UK and the US.
  5. Environmental activists Greenpeace protest in a 120km human chain against the lengthening of plant service-life. Ironically, the swap from nuclear to renewable will see any power deficits in the country – estimated to be 2,000MW during the winter – topped up through energy generated by fossil fuels.
  6. Kruemmel plant stands inactive, 300km from the Polish border. German MP Matthias Platzeck's plea to neighboring Poland to halt their new nuclear builds has fallen on deaf ears. 'Calls from the other side of the border for Poland to stop the project appeared somewhat inappropriate to me,' said Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, 'The reason for radiological risks in Japan isn't an accident at the nuclear plant, but an earthquake and tsunami.'

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