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German Greens agree to extend nuclear due to energy crisis

October 15, 2022

After bitter debate, the Green Party agreed to support ongoing operation of nuclear power plants in Germany but rejected procurement of new fuel rods. Germany's government is currently having the same argument.

Economy Minister Robert Habeck at the Green Party congress in Bonn
Fiery speech: Economy Minister Robert Habeck at the Green Party congress in BonnImage: Ina Fassbender/AFP

The Green Party, one of three coalition parties governing at federal level, supported German Economy Minister Robert Habeck in his plans to keep two nuclear power plants on standby, in case of an energy crunch over winter, up until April 2023.

At the delegates' meeting on Friday evening in Bonn, the party congress supported leaving the Isar II and Neckarwestheim II nuclear power plants in operation as emergency reserves until April 15.

Germany's third remaining nuclear plant, Emsland, however, should go offline at the end of 2022 as previously planned.

However, there is still a dispute about this witthin the federal government. The neoliberal Free Democratic Party (FDP), which is also in the governing coalition, is calling for Emsland to continue to operate even beyond April 2023.

Habeck's ministry, with responsibilities including energy and economic affairs, has been trading blame with the FDP-led Finance Ministry this week for the slow progress in bringing the coalition's current plan for a limited extension through Cabinet and sending it on to parliament to be debated.

Nuclear power plant Isar II in Bavaria
The Greens supported the prolonged operation of two nuclear power plants, including Isar IIImage: Guenter Hofer/SchwabenPress/picture alliance

No to new nuclear fuel

The issue has also put Habeck in a difficult position with the party grassroots, given the Green Party's longstanding objection to nuclear power and the pride it took in being part of the first government to declare that Germany would stop using nuclear power altogether.

The Greens said their red line on any nuclear extension would be the procurement of new nuclear fuel elements which would be necessary to keep Emsland on standby. The Greens would not agree to any legal regulation in the Bundestag that would procure new nuclear fuel.

Party co-leader Ricarda Lang said in the debate that new fuel rods or a return to nuclear power "will not happen with us." Renewable energies need to be expanded, and "nuclear power is not the future," Lang said.

Habeck also described a return to nuclear power as "wrong", adding: "There's no way that's going to happen to us."

As for the reserve operation of the two nuclear power plants, he said that "we shouldn't rule out this contribution from the outset" because of the emerging energy supply gap.

Germany set to keep nuclear plants running

Party rallies round Habeck

The energy crisis triggered by the Russian attack on Ukraine affects everyone, business as well as people. Habeck has procured gas from many countries to replace the Russian supplies, which has little to do with a sustainable energy supply. And with coal-fired power plants already operating, the minister could use the party's backing.

Omid Nouripour, one of two party co-leaders of the Greens, was sure at the beginning of the meeting that Habeck would get it. He told DW: "Our people in the Cabinet are taking responsibility. There are no manuals for the current situation, you have to solve problems off-the-cuff. And the party thinks that's right and proper."

"Thoughtfully and with determination," Habeck said in his fiery speech to the conference, "this is how we lead Germany through the winter, this is how we give Germany security." 

However, he admitted that parts of this path could be painful for the Greens. "But we will never confuse what is the problem and what is the solution. Fossil fuels and nuclear power are the problem," Habeck said.

Jens Thurau, reporting from the Greens' party conference, contributed to this article.

dh/msh (dpa, AFP, Reuters)

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