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Greens reject German nuclear plant extension beyond winter

September 28, 2022

Germany's environment minister has backed a decision to extend the lifespans of two nuclear plants amid an energy crisis. But the Green politician said Germany's phaseout of nuclear power was delayed, not shelved.

Isar 2 nuclear power plant
The Isar 2 nuclear plant in Bavaria is one of two expected to remain operational over the winter Image: Dirk Sattler/IMAGO

German Environment Minister Steffi Lembke said on Wednesday that the energy crisis meant it was "reasonable" to keep two nuclear plants running for three months beyond their planned closure, but that she rejected any further extension.

The Green politician's remarks contrast with the stance of coalition partners the Free Democrats (FDP), who favor an indefinite extension to the usage of nuclear power in Germany amid the predicted energy supply shortage in winter.

In 2011, the German government decided to close all its nuclear plants by the end of 2022, partly in response to the nuclear accident that year in Fukushima, Japan.

What did Lembke say?

"I think it is reasonable to keep these two nuclear power plants online for a few more months," Lembke told broadcaster RTL/ntv.

However, she added that she rejected their continued operation beyond that timeframe.

In a statement on Wednesday, she also said: "I rule out extending the running time beyond the coming winter and the necessary purchase of new fuel elements."  

She said the final decision on whether to extend the plants' lifespan would be taken by the German parliament.

The Green Party's chief whip, Irene Mihalic, echoed Lembke's comments.

"We are not talking about an operational extension here," she said, but rather a possible use of reserve energy.

"We are not going to buy new fuel rods," she added, saying: "The nuclear phaseout has been decided. We are not changing that."

Germany set to keep nuclear plants running

What are Germany's plans for the nuclear plants?

Economy Minister Robert Habeck, also a member of the Green Party, announced on Tuesday evening that he expected two nuclear plants, Isar 2 and Neckarwestheim, to stay online in the first quarter of 2023.

The move comes amid growing fears of energy shortages in winter as Russia cuts gas deliveries to Europe in apparent retaliation for sanctions imposed on it over its invasion of Ukraine. Habeck said he also expects much less electricity to be delivered by France over the winter than was previously predicted.

Habeck's decision was particularly controversial in view of the fact the environmentalist Green Party in Germany has its roots partly in post-war anti-nuclear movements and has maintained its opposition to nuclear power over the years. 

Robert Habeck
Habeck went against his own party's founding principles with his decisionImage: Kay Nietfeld/dpa/picture alliance

Criticism from other parties

However, the move does not go far enough for the junior coalition partner, the FDP, which has called for a third remaining plant, Emsland, also to remain online and for the plants to remain operational for several more years.

The opposition conservative CDU/CSU bloc is also in favor of keeping Emsland operational in addition to the other two plants.

The vice chairman of the CDU, Michael Kretschmer, accused Habeck of making a decision based on his party's principles rather than practical solution-finding.

"The fact that the federal economy minister has not decreed a general continuance of operations, that he is not focusing on [energy] prices or security of supply, but is trying for a temporary solution" is mere ideology, said Kretschmer, who is also the premier of the eastern state of Saxony.

The Social Democrats (SPD), the party of Chancellor Olaf Scholz, has so far said little about Habeck's decision but appears to support it.

tj/sms (dpa, Reuters, AFP)

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