Germany debates nuclear shutdown amid gas supply concerns

Growing concern over the impact of a possible Russian gas cutoff is fueling debate in Germany 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 open a crack after the economy ministry announced a new “stress test” on the safety of power supplies in mid-July.

This should take into account a tougher scenario than the previous test, which concluded in May, found that supplies were assured.

Since then, Russia has reduced its supply of natural gas to Germany via the Nord Stream 1 pipeline to 20% of capacity amid tensions over the war in Ukraine.

It cited technical issues which Germany says are only an excuse for a political power game. Russia recently took about a third of Germany’s gas supply, and there are concerns that it could turn off the tap altogether.

The main opposition Union Bloc has made frequent calls for an extension of the life of the nuclear plants.

Similar calls are coming from the Pro-Business Free Democrats, the smallest party in Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s coalition government.

The leader of the Free Democrats, Finance Minister Christian Lindner, told Sunday’s Bild am Sonntag newspaper: “Safe and climate-friendly nuclear power speaks a lot not to shut down power plants, but use them by 2024 if necessary.” “

He called on Economy Minister Robert Habeck, who is responsible for energy, to stop the use of gas to generate electricity.

Calls to increase the use of nuclear power are peculiar to the other two governing parties, Scholz’s centre-left Social Democrats and, in particular, Hebeck’s environmentalist Greens.

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Opposition to nuclear power is a cornerstone of the Greens’ identity; A Social Democrat-Green government initiated Germany’s exit from nuclear power two decades ago.

The then-Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government made up of the centre-right Union and the Free Democrats set the current form of the nuclear exit in 2011, shortly after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan.

It calls for three steady-operation reactors to go offline at the end of December.

Hebeck has long argued that keeping those reactors running would be legally and technically complex and would do little to address the problems caused by gas shortages, arguing that natural gas was the only way to generate electricity. Not so much a factor as to promote and provide heating to industrial processes.

“We have a heating problem or an industry problem, but not an electricity problem – at least not generally across the country,” he said in early July.

In the first quarter of this year, nuclear plants accounted for 6% of Germany’s electricity generation and gas 13%. “We must work to make sure the power crisis doesn’t come on top of the gas crisis,” Lindner said. Some Greens have indicated a degree of openness in recent days to allow one or more reactors with their existing fuel rods to continue running for short periods if the country were to face a power supply emergency. is – although not for extended periods of time.

Others are not impressed by the idea. It is also a “lifetime extension” for reactors, which would require changes to existing legislation, “and we will not touch it,” said leading green lawmaker Juergen Trittin – Germany’s environment minister when the nuclear stage was first prepared. Went – told the Tagspiegal newspaper of Saturday.

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Critics say that’s not enough anyway.

Leader of the Opposition Friedrich Merz has urged the government to immediately order new fuel rods for the remaining reactors.

Senior opposition lawmaker Alexander Dobrindt called for the reactivation of three already closed reactors and told the Welt am Sonntag newspaper that “in this situation, a lifetime extension for nuclear power of at least five more years can be envisioned.” Is.” And Scholz’s position? Government spokeswoman Kristian Hoffmann said last week she was awaiting the results of a “stress test”, which are expected in the coming weeks.

The government has already given utility companies the green light to fire 10 dormant coal-fired power plants and six oil-fueled power plants, and to clear the way for reactivating dormant lignite-fired plants. There is also a plan. Another 11 coal-fired power plants scheduled to be shut down in November will be allowed to continue running.