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German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her political party, the Christian Democratic Union, announced on Monday that the country will close all of its nuclear power plants over the next 11 years.  This is a complete reversal for Germany, which had supported nuclear power as a way to generate electricity without releasing additional greenhouse gases and without increasing reliance on Russia, Germany’s main source of natural gas.

Until the Fukushima Daiichi disaster, Merkel’s party had advocated the extension of operating licenses for the country’s 17 nuclear power plants by an average of 12 years. Initially, after the disaster in Japan,  Merkel, a physicist by training, announced the temporary closure of seven of the nuclear plants, but anti-nuclear-power demonstrations convinced Merkel keep those plants closed. 

Germany gets nearly a 1/4 of its electricity from nuclear power.

If Germany shutters its nuclear power plants, there will be no real choice but to turn to its own coal reserves, to Russia for additional natural gas supplies or to France, which exports electricity from its own nuclear power plants, which also supply 80 percent of France’s electricity.

Switzerland, which gets 40 percent of its electricity from nuclear power, also announced last week that it plans to shut down its reactors once they reach their expected life span of 50 years. The last plant would come off the grid in 2034. (Wash Post, 5/30/2011)