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Germany to extend 2 nuclear power plant lifespans, slightly

September 5, 2022

The economics ministry has issued a recommendation to keep two of Germany's last atomic energy stations online through the winter as Berlin scrambles to come up with alternatives to Russian gas.

A photo of the cooling tower at the Isar nuclear power plant in Bavaria on January 7, 2014
The Isar 2 plant may stay online for a few months longer than plannedImage: Armin Weigel/dpaZpicture alliance

Germany announced on Monday that it would likely be extending the life of two of its remaining nuclear power plants. 

Deputy Chancellor Robert Habeck, whose ministerial brief incorporates energy policy, said that the plants were to be put on standby until mid-April 2023, instead of being shut down as planned at the end of the year.

Bavaria's Isar 2 station as well as Neckarwestheim 2, which is north of Stuttgart, will act as reserve power sources through the winter.

The third remaining plant will not be needed, according to a report by the economics ministry that stress tested the three stations.

"That there are many-hour crisis situations in our power grid over the winter of 2022/2023 is very unlikely," Habeck said on whether Germany could face blackouts as the result of a looming energy crunch.

At the same press conference, Habeck expressed his extreme confidence in the country's energy supply following a "stress test" carried out earlier in the day.

"We have a high level of supply security," the deputy chancellor said. "We have great grid stability."

The move is a major about-face in German energy policy, where the government has been committed to a complete nuclear phaseout since 2011.

For two of the three parties currently in a coalition, the SPD and the Greens, in particular, exiting nuclear power was also a decades-long campaign platform. The SPD and Greens together ushered in Germany's first nuclear phaseout, only for it to be overturned for just 18 months or so by former Chancellor Angela Merkel, who eventually reverted to a shutdown soon after the Fukushima meltdown in Japan.

A new break for nuclear power?

Opposition: Plan is inadequate

The announcement was met with sharp criticism from the center-right Christian Democrats (CDU), now in opposition after 16 years in power with Merkel.

The Greens "prefer to switch off climate-neutral nuclear power plants" in favor of "the climate killer, coal," said Jens Spahn, Merkel's former health minister, referring to the government's decision to also expand the lifespan of some coal power plants.

Fellow CDU lawmaker Steffen Bilger concurred, saying the government's energy plan was "inadequate in view of the skyrocketing electricity prices and also in view of an impending electricity shortfall."

Compounding crises: conflict and climate change

However, Germany is facing a massive energy crisis as winter approaches. After months of weaning itself off Russian gas following the invasion of Ukraine, Moscow announced last week that it was shutting down the Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline indefinitely citing equipment problems.

The decision to move away from Russian energy has left the government of Chancellor Olaf Scholz scrambling to find new sources to supply households and businesses with heat and electricity.

Climate-change-driven droughts have also compounded the situation. With historically low water levels in German rivers over the summer, boats have not been able to bring supplies of coal to their respective power plants.

Scientists: Too late to completely rollback phaseout of these reactors

Scientists have warned, though, that a long-term extension to the nuclear plants' lifespan would present much more of a problem because of the extent to which the plants have already begun the decommissioning process. 

The scientific consensus did not however deter the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP), who currently rule in a coalition with Scholz's Social Democrats (SPD) and the Green Party.

"The provisions for continued operation must be made without delay in view of the worsening electricity crisis," the party said in a policy statement, calling on the government to make the necessary supply and equipment purchases to keep the plants running for longer.

es/msh (dpa, Reuters)

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