Germany’s energy ties with Russia are already backfiring. The shut down of Nord Stream 1, the main gas supply route, is forcing an increasing number of cities to consider saving energy, and is resulting in the push for reopening old coal-fired power plants, which are to fill in the gaps left by the missing gas. All of this begs the question whether nuclear power should be reconsidered, especially in the face of a recession and energy shortages. It is worth summarizing the discussions so far, and consider what may await us in the near future – writes Michał Perzyński, editor at BiznesAlert.pl.
Will Germany return to nuclear energy?
Last weekend controversy sparked around power produced from natural gas in Germany’s federal government. Finance Minister Christian Lindner called for this type of power generation to be stopped and for nuclear power plants to continue to operate. “We must work to ensure that the gas crisis is not accompanied by an electricity crisis. Therefore, gas can no longer be used for electricity production, as it still happens, ” the Vice-Chancellor and chairman of the Liberal Party FDP said last Sunday. Addressing the Federal Minister for Economic Affairs, Lindner said that “Robert Habeck would have had the authority to prevent this”. He suggested not to close the last nuclear power plants in Germany, and if necessary to use them until 2024. A spokesman for the Ministry of Economy and Climate responded that a complete abandonment of gas in the electricity sector would lead to an electricity crisis and power outages. “There are gas-fired power plants relevant to the system that need to be supplied with gas. If they do not get gas, there will be serious supply disruptions,” he argued, but admitted that wherever it was possible to replace gas in the energy sector, it should be done.
Nevertheless, the debate about Germany extending the lives of its nuclear plants continues, despite the fact that in 2011 it was agreed they would be shut down this year. At the end of July, Die Welt reported that Germany could keep its nuclear power plants and ease the energy crisis, despite the fact that the government in Berlin argued that this was impossible. Berlin could have kept the last three nuclear power plants and even restored the old ones, but did not take advantage of the companies’ proposals. The government argued that it would take a lot of time to procure fuel rods, which prolong the lifespan of nuclear power plants. However, during a secret meeting in March energy companies presented a schedule for importing them on time, but the government did not consider that proposal. The Technischer Uberwachungsverein (TUV) association, which deals with safety regulations, claims that Germany can keep the three remaining nuclear power plants operating, and put back online the three that were shut down at the end of 2021. As discussions on this topic are also held in Poland, it is worth remembering that only a few parties in Germany want to stick to nuclear power. Paulina Matysiak, a deputy from the Together party talked about this. “Energy policy is not just about nuclear power, so a given viewpoint on it does not determine everything. Our natural partner for cooperation is, of course, the German left, although we deplore the fact that the Greens, who are close to us, especially after Russia’s aggression, continue to maintain a dogmatic position against nuclear energy. We have no choice but to continue to explain and put pressure on our neighbors. We hope that, like the Finnish Greens, they will eventually change their minds about this low-carbon energy source and decide to keep it. We understand that this position comes from the deep traditions of Buendnis90 /die Gruenen, and has its source in the historical traumas of the German society, which in Poland may be incomprehensible. The point is that politics should not be conducted on the basis of sentiment, but on the basis of scientific facts, and that is where consensus must be sought. Note that the German government, through its spokesperson, has announced that they will once again take into account nuclear power plants and allow their re-inclusion, ” deputy Matysiak said in an interview with BiznesAlert.pl.
“Without waiting for Germany, we should do the same in Poland – abandon idle ideological disputes and embark on an energy transformation based on renewables supported and supplemented by nuclear power. The sooner our energy industry changes, the sooner will we enjoy cheap and environmentally friendly electricity, while significantly strengthening our energy sovereignty. This solution is undoubtedly the best in our current situation. No more deliberations are needed, we only need to act, together with our neighbors. Without discussions and dialogue with Germany on energy and the use of, for example, existing nuclear power plants in Germany, whether through leasing as we suggest or other modern methods of obtaining energy from the atom, methods of exchange, trade, distribution of energy between European neighbors as close as Poland and Germany, we have no chance of solving the problem of the approaching climate disaster. Investing in nuclear power as a complementary element of green energy is also an expectation coming from the youth movements organizing themselves to articulate their demands to politicians (e.g. Fridays for Future). We must also take their opinion into account. We owe it to them, because it is their future that we are shaping today,” Matysiak said. Among the opposition factions, the Together party is the most vocal advocate for the development of nuclear energy in Poland and directly criticizes the policy of the German federal government in this regard.
However, opposition to the closure of nuclear power in Germany can be found not only in Berlin itself, but above all in the constituent states, where such units would be excluded from the system. One of them is in Bavaria. The Mayor of Munich, Dieter Reiter of the SPD, said it was necessary to keep the Isar 2 NPP, despite the fact that the original plan was to shut it down with the other two NPPs in Germany by the end of 2022. The mayor argued for this citing the energy crisis, which is sparking off the local debate on this issue. According to Reiter, the fuel that is used in reactor Isar 2 now will last until the middle of next year. This has been confirmed by the technical operator TUV SUD. So far, however, the Bavarian Christian democrats from the CSU have opted against such a solution, because Isar produces too little power. On the other hand, the Christian democrats from CDU argue that keeping nuclear power plants is possible. “It is technically possible, it is legally possible, it must be politically possible,” said the head of the CDU Friedrich Merz quoted by Der Spiegel. “Frankly, I don’t care if this is possible with the fuel that we have or not. These units need to work,” he appealed.
Another important voice in the debate on Germany not abandoning nuclear power, was an open letter signed by members of the scientific community published by Die Welt. “We demand an immediate end to the nuclear decommissioning,” 20 scientists working in the fields of technology and economics appealed in their declaration. In their opinion, the continued operation of nuclear power plants should ensure power and prosperity in Germany – as the third pillar of climate protection (next to the sun and wind). According to the scientists, abandoning nuclear power will cause economic problems. “Rising energy prices and falling security of supply threaten competitiveness and prosperity,” they argue. If they manage to collect at least 50 thousand signatures, they will be able to submit their requests to the Commission for Petitions in the Bundestag,” reports the Die Welt newspaper, which obtained the document first. Germany’s phase out of nuclear power will slow down its ability to achieve its climate targets, as a return to coal-fired power generation will be necessary to provide electricity, as is already the case, the researchers note. They argue that nuclear energy is flourishing all over the world, and in the face of climate change and the energy crisis, many countries are increasingly using it.
The German Employers’ Association (Arbeitgeberverband) also supports the expansion of nuclear energy. This news was reported by the German Editorial Network RND, which quoted Stefan Wolf, the Arbeitgeberverband president. Wolf’s position is similar to the perspective of the head of the CSU parliamentary group Alexander Dobrindt, who believes that the operating time of nuclear power plants could be extended by several years. Other politicians from the CDU/CSU and the FDP also share Dobrindt’s view on the current situation in the German energy sector, which has been hit by the energy crisis and the threat of gas shortages caused by Russia restricting supplies via Nord Stream 1. However, while the politicians point out that they want to extend the life of the last three power plants, Wolf has gone much further, and is talking about new power plants, which seems to be mortifying considering the public debate in Germany.
All this shows, however, that in Germany the debate over the return to nuclear power, or rather the delay in leaving it, is very much alive. Although at the moment the political establishment in the form of the Social Democrats from the SPD and the Greens is still against such a solution, it seems that the Liberals from the FDP under the leadership of Christian Lindner would be willing to consider it. In 2011, after the Fukushima disaster, Germany decided to abandon nuclear power by the end of 2022. This deadline is approaching fast and the closer it gets, the more difficult it will be to keep the remaining NPPs. A big political impulse is needed to maintain them, but considering the current climate in German politics, it will be difficult to find.