Germany wavers over nuclear shutdown

With a looming gas crisis caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Germany’s ruling powers are now questioning the decision by the country’s previous administration to cease electricity generation from nuclear power.

Rising concern over the impact of a potential Russian gas supply cut-off is now fuelling the debate in Germany over whether the country should switch off its last three nuclear power plants as planned at the end of this year.

“A lot speaks for not switching off the safe and climate-friendly nuclear power plants, but if necessary using them until 2024,” Finance Minister Christian Lindner, the Free Democrats’ leader, told Sunday’s Bild am Sonntag newspaper. 

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

A government made up of then-Chancellor Angela Merkel’s centre-right coalition moved away from nuclear shortly after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan. The plan calls for the three still-operational reactors to go offline at the end of December this year.

In this year’s first quarter, nuclear plants accounted for 6% of Germany’s electricity generation and gas for 13%. Lindner said “we must work to ensure that an electricity crisis doesn’t come on top of the gas crisis.”

Some Greens have indicated a degree of openness in recent days to allowing one or more reactors to keep running for a short period with their existing fuel rods, if the country faces a power supply emergency, though not to a longer extension.

Meanwhile, opposition leader Friedrich Merz has urged the government to order new fuel rods for the remaining reactors immediately. Senior opposition lawmaker Alexander Dobrindt has also called for three already-shut reactors to be reactivated and told the Welt am Sonntag newspaper that “in this situation, lifetime extensions for nuclear energy of at least five more years are conceivable”.

The German government has already given the green light for utility companies to fire up 10 dormant coal-fired power plants and six that are oil-fuelled, and plans also to clear the way for dormant lignite-fired plants to be reactivated. 

Another 11 coal-fired power plants scheduled to be shut down in November will be allowed to keep operating.