8th Feb 2023

Conditions met for German nuclear extension, officials say

  • Isar nuclear power plant in Bavaria, one of the last remaining three in Germany (Photo: Wikipedia)
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Germany will postpone the closure of its last three remaining nuclear power plants, planned for 31 December, as it prepares for gas shortages this winter.

Anonymous government officials confirmed the move in the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday (16 August), saying conditions have been met for the government to allow a temporary lifetime extension of three remaining nuclear reactors as the country is facing a likely shortage of gas due to cuts in supply from Russia over the Ukraine war.

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It would be a turning point in German energy policy.

Responding to the article, a spokesman for the ministry of economy said the report in the WSJ "lacks any factual basis".

Economy minister Robert Habeck, of the Green party in the Berlin government's three-way coalition, ordered a study earlier this year, which found that nuclear reactors would not help solve a potential energy crisis.

Germany's last three nuclear power plants are Isar 2 in the southern state of Bavaria, Neckarwestheim 2 in Baden-Wurttemberg and Emsland in Lower Saxony. They provide only six-percent of electricity production in Germany.

But replacing their output with gas or coal power would exacerbate Germany's energy problems.

And Germany has been facing pressure from its European allies, including the EU Commission, to extend the operation of its last reactors as part of the bloc's efforts to manage the looming energy crisis.

After Russia slashed gas exports to Germany by 80 percent last month, the mood in Berlin now also appears to have shifted, with politicians seeming increasingly willing to reconsider the nuclear phase-out, as a Russian gas cutoff no longer seems unrealistic.

A formal decision could be weeks off, and even if the government approves the extension, it may require a vote in the Bundestag.

At the beginning of August, social democrat (SPD) chancellor Olaf Scholtz said for the first time it could make sense to keep Germany's last three nuclear reactors online.

Liberal coalition party the FDP also supports an extension, as do opposition conservatives.

However, the Greens, chiefly responsible for both economic and climate policy in the current coalition, are more reluctant.

Previously the German government restarted some German coal-fired power plants — a move Habeck described as "painful but necessary."

To change course on nuclear power may pose even more challenging as many Green party members have long supported Germany's nuclear phase-out, announced in the wake of the Fukushima disaster in 2011.

Popular opinion

While the phase-out has enjoyed overwhelming popular support for years, a recent survey commissioned by German weekly news magazine Der Spiegel, found 78 percent of those surveyed favour extending nuclear operations until summer 2023. Only 22 percent favour shutting it down.

The only party without a clear majority in favour of running the plants for the next five years are the Greens, who will have to preside over the policy shift.

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