Will Germany go back to nuclear power? | Germany | In-depth news and reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW


Germany is heading for an energy crisis as Russia cuts gas supplies in retaliation for sanctions imposed for its invasion of Ukraine.

Finance Minister Christian Lindner warned this week that the country was on the brink of a “very serious economic crisis” and that the government must explore all avenues to fill the gaps in the country’s energy supply.

To that end, the business-friendly Free Democrats (FDP) of Linder, the smallest party in Berlin’s ruling coalition alongside the Green Party and the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD), have called for postponing the exit from nuclear energy in Germany. After several shutdowns in 2021, Germany still has three nuclear power plants in operation to supply 11% of the country’s electricity. They should all be extinct by the end of this year.

Anti-nuclear protesters celebrate victory as power plants shut down

Germany’s Opposition to Nuclear Power

The use of nuclear energy as a “green” alternative to fossil fuels is controversial in Germany. The Green Party has argued for decades that the environmental risks of disposing of nuclear waste far outweigh the benefits.

When they came to power in a coalition government led by SPD Chancellor Gerhard Schröder in 1998, they successfully lobbied for a phase-out of nuclear power. The conservative government that followed under center-right Christian Democrat Chancellor Angela Merkel initially reversed the phasing out, but Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011 reversed the trend again and Merkel eventually pushed his party towards phasing out.

The CDU is now the largest opposition party in Germany and has called for the nuclear phase-out to be reversed. “It is technically and legally possible” that the three remaining reactors continue to operate beyond the end of this year, CDU chairman Friedrich Merz said on Tuesday.

He contradicted Chancellor Olaf Scholz of the SPD who had argued that it would be too difficult to get nuclear rods in time. Scholz said “nobody has provided me with a workable plan” to rapidly increase production at Germany’s three remaining nuclear power plants – which currently provide only 11% of the country’s electricity.

The Branchenverband Kernenergie, an umbrella organization for nuclear energy companies in Germany, said Muncher Merkur newspaper that an extension was indeed possible, but called for a quick decision: “The plants are shutting down. The longer you wait, the harder it will be to restart them.

According to Christian von Hirschhausen, an energy and infrastructure expert at the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW), Chancellor Scholz has the most scientific understanding of the situation.

Bringing nuclear power back online was technically and legally “impossible”, von Hirschhausen told DW. There was no way to undo the dismantling process within the next 18 months, he said, because of the time needed to order, deliver and install the equipment as well as the enriched uranium.

“They should also implement a new set of security standards and checks,” von Hirschhausen added, to replace those that haven’t been done in years due to the phasing out, and new laws to govern. the use of power plants.

The gas crisis

As it ended its use of nuclear power over the past decade, Germany’s reliance on Russian energy sources grew. Almost all of the country’s heavy industry depends on natural gas, as do about half of German homes for their heating source.

At the beginning of this year, 65% of natural gas in Germany came from Russia. Now that has fallen below 40%. In 2021, around 53% of Germany’s coal needed for power and industrial generation was imported from Russia, which is to be reduced to zero after an EU-wide ban comes into force in August.

In order to avoid an energy crisis, Berlin is seeking to replenish its gas reserves. They are, which are now only 60% full, from the current 60% to at least 80% by October and to full capacity before winter.

The plan has left politicians scrambling to find new import partners for oil and gas, accelerate the expansion of solar and wind power, as well as reluctantly extend the life of the country’s coal-fired power plants. , despite promises to phase out coal by 2030.

Christian Lindner and Robert Habeck in parliament

Christian Lindner (l) of the FDP is in favor of nuclear energy, Robert Habeck of the Greens opposes it

However, many fear that all this is not enough and are looking even further afield for new sources of energy. FDP lawmaker Torsten Herbst and centre-right Bavarian premier Markus Söder were among the first to suggest that Berlin lift its ban on fracking, a popular but highly controversial method of shale gas extraction in the United States. for the amount of methane it escapes into. groundwater.

Green Party Economy and Climate Minister Robert Habeck remains opposed to nuclear power and fracking and struggles to defend something as climate-destroying as coal.

But increasing the use of coal, von Hirschhausen said, “is only a temporary measure. It makes sense if we want to accumulate reserves…so that there are no shortages. major players in the energy supply”.

In an interview with the public broadcaster ZDF On Tuesday, Habeck promised the government’s ambitious plan to phase out coal completely over the next eight years was still on track.

The coalition is expected to debate ways to avoid a potentially disastrous energy supply shortfall over the next two weeks, with a view to presenting a new plan in early July.

Edited by: Rina Goldenberg

While You’re Here: Every Tuesday, DW editors round up what’s happening in German politics and society. You can sign up for the weekly Berlin Briefing email newsletter here.

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