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Germany: Full delay to nuclear phaseout unlikely

August 21, 2022

Germany is unlikely to extend the life of its three remaining nuclear power stations due to the energy crisis, said Economy Minister Robert Habeck. However, he added, one power station in Bavaria may stay open if needed.

A photo of the cooling tower at the Isar nuclear power plant in Bavaria on January 7, 2014
Germany's three remaining nuclear power stations are due to close at the end of the yearImage: Armin Weigel/dpaZpicture alliance

German Economy Minister Robert Habeck said Sunday that allowing the country's three last nuclear power stations to remain operational would be of little help in solving the country's energy crisis.

Speaking during a discussion with citizens at the government's open-door day in Berlin, Habeck said extending the lifespan of the plants — which are due to close at the end of the year — would only save about 2% of gas use.

It is the "wrong decision given how little we would save," Habeck, who is also Vice Chancellor, added.

One nuclear plant could stay open

However, the minister said he was open to extending the lifespan of one nuclear plant in Bavaria, subject to the results of a stress test of the country's power system.

The results of the test, to calculate how the country will cope if Russia cuts off natural gas supplies this winter, are due out in a few weeks.

Bavaria is a major manufacturing hub that depends on gas-fired power plants and has few coal-fired plants and low wind power production.

Germany has been phasing out nuclear energy since legislation was passed by former Chancellor Angela Merkel's government in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan.

But voices calling for some nuclear plants to be kept in use have grown louder since energy prices soared over the past year and tensions with one of Germany's main suppliers, Russia, intensified. The government has not signaled that it would reconsider the Merkel-era policy.

Economy Minister Robert Habeck speaking at a government open day for citizens in Berlin on August 21, 2022
German Econony Minister Robert HabeckImage: Kay Nietfeld/dpa/picture alliance

No need to panic over winter gas supplies

Habeck also told the public not to panic about the prospect of a gas shortage during the colder months, noting if households and industry cut their usage by 15-20% "then we have a really good chance of getting through the winter." 

Even if Russia were to cut supplies entirely, there would be no situation where zero gas would reach Germany, the minister said,

Norway and the Netherlands are providing additional gas supplies and new liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals should be operational at the turn of the year.

Over the longer term, Habeck said Germany must expand its investment in renewable energies and phase out fossil fuels, which he said were the cause of many political conflicts and abuse of power.

Germany prepares for worst-case energy scenario

Opening Nord Stream 2 would appease Putin

Habeck also hit back at calls to proceed with the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline between Russia and Germany, which was completed last year. Operational approvals for the project were suspended in February, days before Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

He said opening the pipeline would mean caving in to Russian President Vladimir Putin, as it would amount to saying that Putin is right. "But he isn't," Habeck stressed.

Habeck's comments follow a suggestion by a politician from the neoliberal Free Democratic Party (FDP) on Friday for Nord Stream 2 to become fully operational, to help ease the energy crisis.

The minister decried how Russia was throttling supplies through the other Baltic Sea pipeline, Nord Stream 1, even though it is "fully operational." He said there was every chance it would do the same with Nord Stream 2.

mm/jcg (AFP, dpa, Reuters)