In Germany, the energy crisis is changing everything. When even prominent members of the Greens are ready to postpone the end of nuclear energy, something must be going on.
Berlin, July 30th, 2022 (The Berlin Spectator) — The ‘Bild’ tabloid is the most-read newspaper in Germany. At its editorial office, the late 1970s seem to have returned. This was when left-wingers protested against nuclear power plants all over the country, while the police fought them with water cannons. Back then, the predecessors of today’s Greens wanted a phaseout, while conservatives insisted on keeping West Germany’s NPPs and building new ones.
“The Greens’ 5 Most Embarrassing Excuses”, one of yesterday’s headlines on the ‘Bild’ website said. A week earlier, another piece was entitled “The 5 Lies Spread by NPP Opponents”. ‘Bild’ definitely wants nuclear power to survive. The paper accuses those who insist on scrapping this energy source of doing so for ideological reasons.
Obviously, some people in Germany do not want to be reminded of the fact that the 1970s are over and that the end to nuclear energy was a consensus that involved the conservatives. Former Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed to ending Germany’s nuclear power era until the end of 2022 just after she watched three reactors in Fukushima explode on television. Years before, she had already agreed on taking all NPPs off the grid, but changed her mind. The meltdowns in Fukushima made her make a U-turn again.
Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine and Moscow’s gas export policy have changed everything again. Forty-three years after Three Mile Island, 36 years after Tchernobyl and 11 years after Fukushima, even some Greens will not rule out a runtime extension for Germany’s three remaining NPPs anymore. The latter are the Isar 2 NPP in Bavaria, the one known as Neckarwestheim 2 near the town of the same name in Baden-Württemberg, and the Emsland reactor in Lower Saxony.
These three nuclear power plants generate 6.4 percent of the Federal Republic’s energy right now, while natural gas accounts for about 10 percent. Renewable energy sources generate more than 51 percent at this stage. The problem is that the import of natural gas from Russia might end at any moment. And somehow, Germany needs to get through the winter without making people sit on their sofas in fur coats.
Recently, Katrin Göring-Eckart, one of the Greens’ most prominent politicians and one of the Bundestag’s vice presidents, was asked about the issue on ARD TV. She said, in an emergency situation in which hospitals could not work anymore due to energy issues, an extension for those three NPPs needed to be discussed. Before Russia’s ongoing war, no Green politician has ever endorsed a prolongation of reactor runtimes in Germany.
In Berlin, the Ministries of Economics and the Environmernt, both headed by Greens, are looking into the question whether there should be an extension. Economy Minister and Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck had mentioned a possible prolongation in February, just after Russia launched its attack against its neighbor. There is a lot to consider: Would it be possible to get new nuclear fuel rods on time? How much energy would those reactors generate if they used the old ones that are still installed right now?
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Bavaria’s conservative First Minister Markus Söder even wants to reconnect old NPPs to the grid. Technically, this might not be as easy as it sounds. Besides, the Greens would never agree. The conservative ‘union parties’ CDU and CSU and the Free Democrats (FDP), who are part of Chancellor Olaf Scholz’ government coalition, want the Berlin Bundestag to change Germany’s Nuclear Law now. This would be a requirement for an extension of runtimes.
But changing the law is the easiest part. What about safety? Every 10 years, the nuclear power plants in the country had to undergo a thorough check. The one due in 2019 was cancelled because the nuclear power era was supposed to end three years later. Experts believe there should definitely be a check if the runtimes are extended. The discussion continues.