Germany argues over nuclear shutdown amid gas supply concerns

Berlin (AFP) – Growing concern about the impact of a possible Russian gas moratorium is fueling debate in Germany over whether the country should shut down its last three nuclear power plants as planned at the end of this year.

The door to some kind of extension appeared to open a crack after the Economy Ministry announced in mid-July a new “stress test” for electricity supply security. It is supposed to take into account a more stringent scenario than the previous test, reached in May, which found supplies to be guaranteed.

Since then, Russia has reduced natural gas supplies The Nord Stream 1 pipeline to Germany has crossed to 20% of capacity amid tensions over the war in Ukraine. She cited technical problems that Germany says are just an excuse to play on political power. Russia recently took in about a third of Germany’s gas supply, and there are fears that it may turn off the tap completely.

The main opposition bloc has increasingly made repeated demands to extend the life of nuclear plants. Similar calls were made by the smallest party in Chancellor Olaf Schultz’s coalition government, the pro-business Liberal Democrats.

“A lot is talked about not decommissioning safe and climate-friendly nuclear power plants, but if necessary, using them until 2024,” Finance Minister Christian Lindner, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, told Bild am Sonntag newspaper on Sunday. Economy Minister Robert Habeck, who is in charge of energy, called for a halt to the use of gas to generate electricity.

Calls for expanded use of nuclear power are embarrassing for the two other ruling parties, Schulz’s centre-left Social Democrats, and, in particular, the environmental greens of Habeck. Opposition to nuclear power is the cornerstone of the Greens’ identity. The SPD-Green government launched Germany’s exit from nuclear power two decades ago.

A government made up of the center-right union of then-Chancellor Angela Merkel and the Liberal Democrats defined the current form of a nuclear exit in 2011, shortly after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan. It calls for the three reactors still operating to be shut down at the end of December.

Habeck has long argued that keeping these reactors running would be legally and technically complex and would do little to address it. Problems caused by gas shortages, arguing that natural gas is not so much a factor in generating electricity as it is in feeding industrial processes and providing heating.

“We have a heating problem or an industry problem, but we don’t have 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 and gas generation with 13%. “We must work to ensure that the electricity crisis does not come to the fore in the gas crisis,” Lindner said.

Some Greens have indicated a degree of openness in recent days to allow one or more reactors to continue operating for a short time with their existing fuel rods, should the state face a power supply emergency — but not for a longer extension.

Others don’t like the idea. This is “also a life extension” for reactors that requires a change in existing law, said prominent green lawmaker Jürgen Tritten – Germany’s environment minister when the phase-out plan for nuclear power was first drawn up – and “we won’t go into that”. Tagesspiegel newspaper Saturday.

Critics say this is not enough anyway. Opposition leader Friedrich Merz urged the government to immediately order new fuel rods for the remaining reactors. Opposition MP Alexander Dobrendt has called for the construction of three reactors that are already closed It should be reactivated and told Welt am Sonntag that “in this case, a life extension of nuclear power for at least another five years is conceivable”.

What is Schulz’s position? Government spokeswoman Christian Hoffmann said last week that he was awaiting the results of a “stress test” expected in the coming weeks.

The government has already given the green light For utility companies to operate 10 coal-fired and six petroleum-fueled idle power plants, it also plans to pave the way for revitalizing lignite-fired idle power plants. Another 11 coal-fired plants that are scheduled to close in November will be allowed to continue operating.

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