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Germany has begun shutting down its three remaining nuclear power plants as part of a long-planned transition towards renewable energy.

The shutdown of the Emsland, Neckarwestheim II and Isar II reactors, which was agreed upon more than a decade ago, has proved divisive.

Other industrialised countries – such as the UK, US, Japan, China and France – are counting on nuclear energy to replace fossil fuels.

Germany’s decision to stop using both nuclear and fossil fuels has been met with some scepticism, as well as unsuccessful last-minute calls to halt the shutdown.

Decades of anti-nuclear protests in Germany, stoked by disasters at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima, put pressure on successive governments to end its use.

Environmental groups planned to mark the day with celebrations outside the three reactors and rallies in major cities, including Berlin.

Defenders of atomic energy say fossil fuels should be phased out first as part of global efforts to curb climate change, arguing that nuclear power produces far fewer greenhouse gas emissions and is safe, if properly managed.

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As energy prices spiked last year due to the war in Ukraine, some members of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s government got cold feet about closing the nuclear plants as planned on 31 December 2022.

In a compromise, Mr Scholz agreed to a one-time extension of the deadline, but insisted that the final countdown would happen on 15 April.

Bavaria’s conservative governor, Markus Soeder, who backed the original deadline set in 2011 when Angela Merkel was Germany’s chancellor, this week called the shutdown “an absolute mistaken decision”.

He said: “While many countries in the world are even expanding nuclear power, Germany is doing the opposite.

“We need every possible form of energy. Otherwise, we risk higher electricity prices and businesses moving away.”

Advocates of nuclear power worldwide have criticised the German shutdown, aware that the action by Europe’s biggest economy could deal a blow to a technology they tout as a clean and reliable alternative to fossil fuels.

The German government has acknowledged that, in the short term, the country will have to rely more heavily on polluting coal and natural gas to meet its energy needs, even as it takes steps to massively ramp up electricity production from solar and wind.

Germany aims to be carbon neutral by 2045.

Officials such as environment minister Steffi Lemke say the idea of a nuclear renaissance is a myth, citing data showing that atomic energy’s share of global electricity production is shrinking.

At a recent news conference in Berlin, Ms Lemke noted that building new nuclear plants in Europe, such as Hinkley Point C in the UK, has faced significant delays and cost over-runs.

Funds spent on maintaining ageing reactors or building new ones would be better spent on installing cheap renewables, she argued.

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