Not since the grim period after World War II has Germany had significant blackouts, but it is now bracing for that possibility after shutting down half its nuclear reactors practically overnight.

Grid-at-SunsetBIBLIS, GERMANY — Nuclear plants have long generated nearly a quarter of Germany’s electricity. But after the tsunami and earthquake that sent radiation spewing from Fukushima, half a world away, the government disconnected the 8 oldest of Germany’s 17 reactors — including the two in this drab factory town — within days. Three months later, with a new plan to power the country without nuclear energy and a growing reliance on renewable energy, Parliament voted to close them permanently. There are plans to retire the remaining nine reactors by 2022.

As a result, electricity producers are scrambling to ensure an adequate supply. Customers and companies are nervous about whether their lights and assembly lines will stay up and running this winter. Economists and politicians argue over how much prices will rise.

“It’s easy to say, ‘Let’s just go for renewables,’ and I’m quite sure we can someday do without nuclear, but this is too abrupt,” said Joachim Knebel, chief scientist at Germany’s prestigious Karlsruhe Institute of Technology. He characterized the government’s shutdown decision as “emotional” and pointed out that on most days, Germany has survived this experiment only by importing electricity from neighboring France and the Czech Republic, which generate much of their power with nuclear reactors.

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Source: Elisabeth Rosenthal | The New York Times