Jürgen Trittin, Member of the Lower House of the German Parliament

„Deliberate disregard of their own opportunities “

As the environment minister, Jürgen Tritten was instrumental in Germany's nuclear phase-out. For him, the energy transition is far more successful than initially predicted.

"Nuclear energy is a history of errors. Supported by people who are liberally minded in other economic matters, it never would have come about without subsidies. And yet its calculations were air-brushed away as we still wait to be presented the final bill. No country in the world has disposal for high-level radioactive waste. As a general rule, nuclear-producing countries have set aside money for disposal, but will it be enough? I don't think this is true for either Germany or Switzerland because you also have to adjust it for interest rates. Disposal itself is the next mistake. In the beginning, people that thought this was an easily solvable issue, but it has now become a major challenge, technically and socially. People believed that once a nuclear power plant existed, they would possess a money-making machine. Today maintenance has become expensive, and energy producers as well as builders of nuclear power plants are highly indebted companies, as is seen in the example of France. Another misconception is the separation of peaceful uses of nuclear energy from the proliferation of its potential use to build nuclear bombs. This was apparent early on. After the government was taken over by the SPD and Greens in 1998, the phase-out become one of our most important projects, especially for me as a green environment minister. We launched it in 2002 together with the energy companies – a success. Last year, more new energy capacity was installed worldwide for renewable energy than for fossil fuel sources for the first time. In the renewable energy sector, nearly 400,000 jobs were created in Germany. Of course, renewable energy has also been subsidised though never to the same extent as nuclear energy, which will likely cost us even more money if we think about disposal. Wind and solar energy, in contrast, will soon be able to compete without subsidies. There are, of course, losers in Germany when it comes to the energy transition. We call them the big four: RWE, EON, Vattenfall and ENBW. Before the energy transition, they enjoyed a market share of 87 per cent. Today it has shrunk to 34 per cent. Between them and 100 per cent are countless medium-sized, cooperative and community producers. We practically served them the future business plan on a silver plate . In other words: they had the necessary knowledge as well as the subsidies that would have prepared them. But instead of taking advantage of this, they committed suicide with a message. State-regulated and guaranteed purchases made them comfortable and lazy. And then they made a mistake with serious consequences: we had hardly lost power when they ignored the 2002 agreement and launched a nuclear energy renaissance, sharing their naivety with investors and shareholders. False signals, false investments, false hopes – after the Fukushima accident, all of this culminated into the decline of the big four. The proportion of new renewable energy in the electricity mix of these companies is well below five per cent on average. I call this deliberate disregard of their own opportunities. Conversely, the electricity market has become a gateway for medium-sized companies. This has led not only to greater competition but also to a democratisation of the electricity sector. On the other hand, the big four are now financially hurt in such a way that we have to be worried about whether they can muster up the close to 50 billion euros for disposal. Germany is now discussing if we should wrest the money away from the companies sooner rather than later and get out from under their control."

Read more:

"Deeper into the red."