Germany: On second thought, maybe we won't shut down our remaining nuclear power plants

(Mikhail Metzel/Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

The energy situation in Germany hasn’t made much sense this year. The country was set to shut down its remaining nuclear power plants this year as part of a long-term push by the Green party to get rid of them. And given that the Green party is currently part of the governing coalition in Germany it seemed nothing would stop that plan.


And then Russia invaded Ukraine and, under international pressure, Germany put an end to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, stopped buying Russian oil and started sending German weapons to Ukraine. But even as all of this was happening, Germany continued buying Russian gas through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline. It had not choice. Germany is so heavily dependent on Russian gas that there was no way to manage the approaching winter without it. So Germany was taking a firm stand against the Russian invasion but also sending millions and millions of Euros to Russia every months for energy.

Last month that awkward status quo took a turn when Russia suddenly announced it was cutting the supply of gas in the pipeline by 60%. Russia claimed the problem was technical. The German-made compressors that send the gas from Russia to Germany needed maintenance. Russia had sent a part to a specialty facility in Canada for repair but because of strict sanctions they couldn’t get it back. And that meant they had no choice but to cut the supply of gas.

That’s the story the Russians have been telling, but the Germans noted there was no planned work on the pipeline scheduled until September. The Germans called the shutdown (which happened in June) a political decision aimed at turning Germany’s gas-dependence into a weapon.

While this gas crisis was brewing, Germany made plans to ramp up coal burning as a substitute for the lost gas supply. And that led many people to suggest that maybe the country should reconsider decommissioning its remaining nuclear plants this year. An assessment was done and the conclusion was that it was just too difficult to restart 3 plants that stopped operating last December or to continue operating the final three plants scheduled to shut down this December:


“We have again examined very carefully whether a longer operation of the nuclear power plants would help us in this foreign policy situation,” German Vice-Chancellor Robert Habeck said in a statement on Tuesday.

“The answer is negative – it would not help us,” he concluded…

The permit to operate the three plants that were shut off on 31 December could not be reactivated in a “legally certain way,” the ministries explained in a statement.

And even if the decision to restart the nuclear plants had been taken, the effect would likely not be felt in time for the 2022 winter season, they argued.

Furthermore, the three plants that are currently still running would not have sufficient fuel available after 31 December 2022, which would result in “no additional electricity generation” for the coming winter.

Extending the runtime of the three running plants would also require a safety assessment, which was last performed in 2009. Significant retrofitting would be needed to restart them and ensure they meet “state-of-the-art” safety requirements for a longer period, the ministries argued.

To almost everyone outside Germany, this decision seemed daft, especially for a country that is ostensibly committed to meeting clean energy goals. Here’s something Vox published about this just last week.

To maintain enough gas reserves to get the country through the winter, they could try to put off the closure of Germany’s last three remaining nuclear reactors, which were scheduled to shutter by the end of 2022 as part of Germany’s post-Fukushima turn against nuclear power, and even restart already closed reactors.

Or they could try to reactivate mothballed coal-fired power plants, and make up some of the electricity deficit with Germany’s still-ample coal reserves.

Based on carbon emissions alone, you’d presumably go for the nuclear option. Coal is by far the dirtiest of fossil fuels, responsible for a fifth of all global greenhouse gas emissions — more than any other single source — as well as a soup of conventional air pollutants. Nuclear power produces none of these.

German legislators saw it differently. Last week, the country’s parliament, with the backing of members of the Green Party in the coalition government, passed emergency legislation to reopen coal-powered plants, as well as further measures to boost the production of renewable energy. There would be no effort to restart closed nuclear power plants, or even reconsider the timeline for closing the last active reactors.


And this dilemma wasn’t just being felt at Vox. One-third of Germany’s ruling coalition, a party known as FDP, took sides against the other two, arguing that extending the life of the existing nuclear plants made sense. Christian Dürr, leader of the FDP tweeted this a week ago.

It reads, “Putin remains unpredictable. We should take precautions: stop generating electricity from gas, extend the life of nuclear power plants and examine gas production in the North Sea.” In a 2nd tweet he added, “We have to exhaust all possibilities for this. Anyone who talks about cold showers and warm sweaters in these weeks misunderstands the seriousness of the situation.” The remark about warm sweaters was a reference to something Robert Habeck (the same man who announced that extending the life of nuclear plants wasn’t possible in March) had said about preparing for the coming winter.

But the pushback to this view is that Germany’s problem isn’t a lack of electricity it’s a lack of heat. Even if you kept the nuclear plants operating all winter, unless every German home has electric space heaters to replace the gas they usually rely on for heat, it’s not going to matter. Or will it?

Yesterday, Vice Chancellor Habeck changed course and announced that the government would perform a fresh assessment to once again consider the possibility of keeping the remaining nuclear plants running.


Germany may extend the life of its three remaining nuclear power plants, the economy ministry said on Monday, as public support rises in the face of a possible cut-off of Russian gas…

The ministry said power grid operators had requested a second assessment of the viability of nuclear power.

“We will now calculate again and then make a decision on the basis of clear facts,” a ministry spokesperson said, adding the results of the new evaluation were expected in a few weeks…

Bavaria’s Economy Minister Hubert Aiwanger on Sunday urged the federal government to extend the lifetime of the nuclear power plants.

“When the Greens say that nuclear power cannot be used to heat an apartment or that we do not have an electricity problem, but a gas problem, then that is complete nonsense,” Aiwanger told the Augsburger Allgemeine newspaper.

In the end it’s almost a mirror image of Russia claiming there’s a technical problem when really there’s a political problem using a technical problem as a fig leaf.

If nothing else, Russia’s manipulation of the gas supply has put two parties that make up the current governing coalition directly at odds over this issue. In other words, Russia is sowing chaos among its enemies which you have to suspect was their goal all along.

Join the conversation as a VIP Member

Trending on HotAir Videos