Is Germany about to decide to keep its nuclear power plants open?

The German government famously decided to turn off all its nuclear power plants in the wake of the Fukushima disaster a decade ago. But the gas stand-off with Russia has led to a discussion on whether to keep the last three nuclear sites running.

Is Germany about to decide to keep its nuclear power plants open?
Steam comes out of the cooling tower of unit 2 of the Neckarwestheim nuclear power plant in Baden-Württemberg. Photo: Marijan Murat/dpa

The German government could be preparing the ground for a surprise U-turn on its policy of closing down all its nuclear power plants by the end of 2022.

On Monday a government spokeswoman said that a second stress test on the security of the country’s energy supplies would be used as the basis for any decision to keep the nuclear power stations running for an additional six months.

The first stress test – an attempt to assess how prepared Germany was for any Russian decision to cut off gas deliveries – was done shortly after the Russian invasion of Ukraine began in February.

Since then the situation has become more serious, with Russia’s state-owned gas supplier, Gazprom, closing down the Nord Stream pipeline for scheduled repair works. The German government says it expects that Gazprom will not reopen the pipeline within the planned schedule.

The spokeswoman from the Economics Ministry said on Monday that any decision on nuclear would be made on the basis of facts and analysis. “We are now calculating again and will then decide on the basis of clear facts,” she said.

She added that the results of the second analysis are expected “in the next few weeks”.

Green resistance

Nuclear energy still accounts for some six percent of German electricity supplies. Producers have said that new reactor rods are available to be bought for the reactors so as to keep them running.

But nuclear energy is unpopular among the Green party, which is part of the traffic light coalition and has its roots in the anti-nuclear demonstrations of the 1970s.

Under current law, the three nuclear power plants – Isar 2, Emsland and Neckarwestheim 2 – must be shut down by December 31st at the latest.

Economics Minister Robert Habeck and Environment Minister Steffi Lemke, both leading figures in the Green party, advised against longer operating times for the nuclear power plants in March.

At the time they argued that a small contribution to the country’s energy supply would be countered by major economic, legal and safety costs.

On Monday, Green leader in the Bundestag Britta Haßelmann made clear that her party still opposed extending the lifetimes of the remaining nuclear stations.

“There is a social consensus to phase out nuclear power, and we will not jeopardize that,” she said.

“Wanting to solve a gas shortage with nuclear power is and remains a sham debate,” she argued.

CDU welcomes move

The centre-right CDU party has welcomed the news of the second stress test.

The party’s environmental policy spokeswoman, Anja Weisgerber, said on Monday, that “the government must ensure the security of supply and consider all necessary options for this. This includes the temporary continued operation of the last three nuclear power plants.”

She added that “we have been pointing out a possible electricity shortfall, especially in the south, for months.”

The FDP, a junior member of the government, made clear on Monday that it favoured keeping the nuclear power plants running into 2023.

“We must do everything we can to close the looming gas gap. The extension of nuclear power plant lifetimes can make a significant contribution to this,” FDP party secretary Christian Dürr told Welt TV.


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Norway and Germany seek Nato-led cooperation for key undersea structures

Germany and Norway want to start a NATO-led alliance to protect critical underwater infrastructure, their leaders said on Wednesday, weeks after explosions hit two key gas pipelines in the fallout from the war in Ukraine.

Norway and Germany seek Nato-led cooperation for key undersea structures

 “We are in the process of asking the NATO Secretary General to set up a coordination office for the protection of underwater infrastructure,” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz told a press conference in Berlin.

“We take the protection of our critical infrastructure very seriously and nobody should believe that attacks will remain without consequences,” he said.

Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store said the alliance would be “an informal initiative to exchange between civilian and also military actors” with NATO providing “a centre, a coordination point”.

Underwater cables and pipelines were “arteries of the modern economy” and it was necessary to create “a coordinated joint effort to ensure security for this infrastructure”, he said.

Scholz said he and Store would propose the plan to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, who is due in Berlin for a security conference. The Nord Stream 1 and 2 gas pipelines off the Danish island of Bornholm were targeted by two huge explosions at the end of September.

The pipelines, which connect Russia to Germany, had been at the centre of geopolitical tensions as Moscow cut gas supplies to Europe in suspected
retaliation to Western sanctions over the invasion of Ukraine.

Although they were not in operation when the leaks occurred, they both still contained gas which spewed up through the water and into the atmosphere.

Russia and Western countries, particularly the United States, have traded bitter barbs over who is responsible for the blasts.

Several European countries have since taken steps to increase security around critical infrastructure. 

The G7 interior ministers warned earlier this month at a meeting in Germany that the Nord Stream explosions had highlighted “the need to better protect our critical infrastructure”.

Norway has become Europe’s main gas supplier in the wake of the war in Ukraine, taking the place of Russia.

The Scandinavian country has a vast network of pipelines, stretching for almost 9,000 kilometres, linking it to the continent, which experts have said are at risk of sabotage.