Germany puts two nuclear plants on standby in energy U-turn

Germany has said it will keep two nuclear plants on standby beyond the end of the year in a policy U-turn, as the shut-off of Russian gas supplies sends Europe scrambling for energy sources.

Steam rises from the cooling tower of the nuclear power plant Isar 2 in Bavaria.
Steam rises from the cooling tower of the nuclear power plant Isar 2 in Bavaria. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Armin Weigel

Following a new network stress test, two of the three remaining power plants would “remain available until mid-April 2023 in case needed”, Economy Minister Robert Habeck said in a statement on Monday, partly delaying a nuclear exit planned under former chancellor Angela Merkel.

The plants would be kept in reserve to potentially “make a further contribution to the electricity grid in southern Germany”, where the development of renewable power was lagging the north.

Habeck said such a crisis was still “extremely unlikely” and assured that Germany had a “very high security of supply”.

The Green minister also underlined that Germany was not wavering from its plan to move on from nuclear energy, with all plants being unplugged from the grid at the end of the year.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: What are Germany’s alternatives to Russian gas?

“New fuel rods will not be put in and after mid-April 2023 it is also over for the reserve,” Habeck said.

An initial stress test in March had found that the remaining nuclear fleet were not needed to ensure energy security, leading to the conclusion that they could be phased out by year’s end as originally planned.

But the electricity market has since been upended by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with power bills soaring in part because Moscow has dwindled energy supplies to Europe.

“War and the climate crisis are having a very concrete impact,” Habeck said, referring to a summer drought that has dried up Germany’s rivers and impeded fuel transport.

Pipeline cut

Merkel spectacularly decided to ditch atomic energy in 2011 following the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan. Extending the lifetime of the plants, which account for six percent of the country’s electricity output, has set off a heated debate in Germany, where nuclear power has been a source of controversy stretching back before Merkel’s decision.

The move is especially sensitive for Habeck, whose Green party has its roots in the anti-nuclear movement. But Germany has already moved to restart mothballed coal power plants and fill gas storage ahead of the winter to guard against an energy shortfall.

Last week, Russian energy giant Gazprom said it would not restart gas deliveries via the Nord Stream 1 pipeline Saturday as planned after a three-day maintenance, pinning the blame on Western sanctions.

“Problems with pumping (gas) arose due to sanctions that were imposed against our country,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Monday.

Germany no longer takes Russian supplies into account in its energy security considerations, said Habeck, saying it was “not a surprise” that Moscow did not restart gas flows via Nord Stream 1.

“The only thing that is reliable from Russia is lies,” he said, adding that “we will have to solve our problems without consideration of Putin’s erratic decisions, and that’s what we will do.”

Bill squeeze

Swift government action meant Germany would “get through this winter” with the energy it needed, Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Sunday.

But soaring bills meant “rapid” changes were needed to the electricity market at a European level, he said at the unveiling of a €65 billion inflation relief package.

Far-left and far-right political parties planned gatherings in the eastern city of Leipzig on Monday evening to protest what they see as the insufficiency of the government’s support measures.

READ ALSO: What’s in Germany’s support package for rising energy bills?

The demonstrations could mark the start of a “hot autumn” of protest in Germany as billpayers feel the squeeze from rising prices.

Earlier Monday, Scholz spoke with French President Emmanuel Macron, who said France was ready to deliver more gas to Germany to allow Berlin to export more electricity.

France, which has long leaned on nuclear power, is itself struggling after a number of its reactors were shut down due to corrosion issues.

Other countries have reevaluated their stance on nuclear energy in the wake of the Russian invasion, including disaster-struck Japan.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida called at the end of August for a push to revive the country’s nuclear power industry, and build new atomic plants.

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German energy firm RWE takes Gazprom to court over supply halts

German's RWE said Tuesday it is taking legal action against Russia's Gazprom over halted gas supplies, the latest German company to do so since Moscow invaded Ukraine.

German energy firm RWE takes Gazprom to court over supply halts

Following the invasion, Gazprom steadily dwindled pipeline supplies to Germany in apparent retaliation for Western sanctions on Russia, sending energy prices soaring.

Last week, German energy giant Uniper said it was seeking damages from Gazprom at an international tribunal, as the Russian company’s failure to deliver gas had cost them billions of euros.

READ ALSO: Germany’s Uniper takes Gazprom to court over halted gas supplies

An RWE spokeswoman confirmed to AFP the company had also launched action, but declined to give further details.

Gazprom’s failure to deliver promised supplies has meant that German companies, long heavily reliant on Russian energy, had to buy gas on world markets at far higher prices.

Financial daily Handelsblatt reported that the costs incurred by RWE were likely lower, at around €1 billion, than those faced by Uniper.

Uniper had far larger contracts, and has put its losses from the supply halts at €11.6 billion. Gazprom has rejected Uniper’s claims.

The company, Germany’s biggest gas importer, has agreed a deal to be nationalised after Russia’s drastic reduction in supplies pushed it to the brink of bankruptcy.

READ ALSO: How Germany became ensnared by Russian gas

It reported a €40 billion net loss for the first nine months of the
year, one of the biggest losses in German corporate history.