No Shock to the System!

Germany’s policy provides a stable framework for a rational transformation of the energy system. The German nuclear industry does not struggle with a change in government policy. There was no such change, at least not one of any momentum. The German federal and state governments have been supporting research, development, demonstration and deployment of renewable energy technologies since the oil crises in the 1970’s.

A majority of public and elite opinion has been against further investment in nuclear power since Chernobyl in 1986. The much-copied and highly effective Power Feed-In Law (Stromeinspeisegesetz) is in force since 1 January 1991, aiding the build-up of the renewable energy industry. This law was upgraded to the Renewable Energy Law (Erneuerbare-Energien-Gesetz) on 1 April 2000.

Around that time, the German federal government and the large electric utilities operating nuclear power plants in Germany negotiated and agreed a nuclear phase-out. This gave each plant a residual amount of power it could generate before it had to shut. The negotiated phase-out and the Renewable Energy Law provided a stable framework for an energy transition our of nuclear by circa 2022, depending on when the residual power output would have been produced. The policy triggered investment not only in renewable energy but also in energy savings and highly efficient combined-heat-and-power plants.

After an economically and electorally ill-advised law of September 2010 extending the remaining running time of existing nuclear power plants, the — hopefully final — decision of July 2011 to switch them off by the end of 2021 at the latest, brings the German federal government’s policy right back onto the long-established policy vector and in tune again with popular and elite opinion.

The story underlines the importance of policy continuity in Germany, where ruling coalitions are formed in the political center, and the checks and balances of a federal system guards against the effects of erratic politics, such as the short-lived 2010 law allowing old nuclear plants to keep running.

There was thus no shock to the system. E.on employs only about 2,300 in its nuclear division. Blaming 11,000 redundancies on a change in government policy that was no change is a blatant piece of disinformation, which any good journalist would have spotted.

For more on this see my “The Nuclear Power Endgame in Germany” or at

R. Andreas Kraemer is the Director and CEO of the Ecologic Institute Berlin and the Chairman of the Ecologic Institute Washington, D.C.