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How to Kill an Industry

Greifswald nuclear plant demolition work Source Michael Jungblut laif 57019691
A worker disassembles a nuclear power plant in Greifswald, Germany. The last eight reactors will be shut down by 2022.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Germany’s prominent push toward renewable energy has become a familiar topic, but the price companies and consumers are paying for it is not.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • Germany is shutting down nuclear power by 2022 and simultaneously shifting to 80 percent renewable energy by 2050.
    • The Fraunhofer Institute estimates the shift to cost €1.1. trillion. Other estimates are substantially higher.
    • The average German household has paid €4,700 to subsidize wind and solar energy since 2000.
  • Audio

    Audio

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“It was a dark, dark day for us,” said Felix Kusicka, the mayor of Biblis, a small town on the eastern bank of the Rhine. For decades, the town’s main employer was a 2500-megawatt nuclear plant that supplied power to nearby Frankfurt. After the authorities ordered the plant shut down in 2011 following the Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan, workers have dismantled the reactor cores and are taking the plant apart piece by piece.

With the shutdown, the town lost 50 percent of its corporate tax take and hundreds of jobs. House prices have fallen. Now, once-prosperous Biblis is shrinking. Stores have shut their doors and hotel rooms are empty. Biblis residents, bitter that even the Japanese are turning on their reactors again, call their town’s demise “the catastrophe after the catastrophe.”

The fate of Biblis is only a tiny sliver of the vast economic upheavals that began when Germany launched its energy transition that simultaneously phases out all nuclear power, winds down coal and other fossil fuels, accelerates the push towards alternative sources of energy, and builds the new grid infrastructure to make it all possible. The fact that Germany is a world leader in green power is by now familiar. Much less familiar is the price the country is paying for it, not just in cold hard cash, but in growing losses and dislocations across the entire economy.

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