Germany is arguing about nuclear shutdown amid gas supply concerns

Germany is arguing about nuclear shutdown amid gas supply concerns

BERLIN (AP) – Rising concerns about the impact of a possible Russian gas shutdown are fueling debate in Germany over whether the country should shut down its last three nuclear power plants as planned later this year.

The door to some sort of expansion appeared to be opening a crack after the Economy Ministry announced a new “stress test” on security of supply in mid-July. It is said to take into account a tougher scenario than an earlier test, which concluded in May, where the supplies found were secured.

Since then, Russia has reduced natural gas supplies through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline to Germany to 20% of capacity amid tensions surrounding the war in Ukraine. It named technical problems that Germany described as a pretext for a political power game. Russia recently accounts for about a third of Germany’s gas supply, and there are concerns it may turn off the tap entirely.

The largest opposition bloc, the Union, has increasingly made calls for extending the lifespan of nuclear power plants. Similar demands come from the smallest party in Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s coalition government, the business-friendly Free Democrats.

“There is much to be said for not shutting down the safe and climate-friendly nuclear power plants, but for using them until 2024 if necessary,” said FDP Finance Minister Christian Lindner to “Bild am Sonntag”. He called on Robert Habeck, Minister of Economic Affairs responsible for energy, to stop using gas to generate electricity.

Demands for an expansion of the use of nuclear power are uncomfortable for the other two governing parties, Scholz’s Social Democrats and, above all, Habeck’s environmentalists. Opposition to nuclear power is a cornerstone of Green identity; two decades ago, a social-democratic-green government initiated Germany’s nuclear phase-out.

In 2011, shortly after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, a government made up of the centre-right union of then Chancellor Angela Merkel and the Free Democrats decided on the current form of the nuclear phase-out. It provides for the three reactors still in operation to be taken off the grid at the end of December.

Habeck has long argued that operating these reactors was legally and technically complex and would do little to solve the problems caused by a gas shortage, arguing that natural gas is less of a factor in power generation and more in fueling industrial processes and the Provision be heating.

“We have a heating problem or an industrial problem, but not a power problem — at least not nationwide,” he said in early July.

In the first quarter of this year, 6% of German electricity generation came from nuclear power plants and 13% from gas. “We have to work to ensure that the gas crisis is not followed by an electricity crisis,” said Lindner.

Some Greens have signaled some openness in recent days to running one or more reactors briefly on their existing fuel rods if the country hits an energy emergency – but not for a longer period of time.

Others aren’t impressed with the idea. This “is also a lifetime extension” for the reactors, which would require an amendment to the existing law, “and we will not change anything about that,” prominent Green MEP J├╝rgen Trittin – Germany’s environment minister when the nuclear phase-out was first drafted – told Der Tagesspiegel on Saturday .

Critics say that’s not enough anyway. Opposition leader Friedrich Merz has called on the government to immediately order new fuel rods for the remaining reactors. The high-ranking opposition politician Alexander Dobrindt called for the reactivation of three reactors that had already been shut down and told the newspaper “Welt am Sonntag” that “in this situation, nuclear energy could be extended by at least another five years”.

And Scholz’s position? Government spokeswoman Christiane Hoffmann said last week that he was waiting for the results of the “stress test”, which are expected in the coming weeks.

The government has already given utilities the green light to commission 10 decommissioned coal-fired power plants and six oil-fired power plants, and also plans to open the way for the reactivation of decommissioned lignite-fired power plants. Another 11 coal-fired power plants, which are scheduled to be shut down in November, are allowed to continue operating.