Will Germany extend the life of its remaining nuclear power stations?
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has given a small indication that he could be in favour of extending the life of the country’s remaining nuclear power stations. With the gas crisis casting an unflattering light on Germany’s dependence on Russian gas, an increasing number of politicians are arguing for the nuclear phase-out to be postponed.
German government weighs U-turn on nuclear power phase-out
The German government is apparently standing on the brink of a U-turn on its policy to shut down the country’s last three nuclear power stations at the end of the year. Back in 2011, in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the country decided to phase out the use of atomic energy, but the current volatility on the energy market has placed a major question mark against this move.
During a visit to a factory in western Germany on Wednesday, Scholz said that an extension of the lifetime of nuclear power plants “could make sense," but emphasised that, even so, nuclear could only ever account for a small portion of Germany's electricity mix, and that the focus should be on expanding renewable energy alternatives. In 2021, nuclear power accounted for 13,3 percent of the supply of electricity in Germany.
Opposition parties and coalition partners support extension
The government is coming under increasing pressure from opposition parties, with the CDU leader Friedrich Merz and CSU leader Markus Sӧder scheduled to visit the Isar 2 nuclear power plant in Bavaria on Thursday, as part of a weeks-long campaign to promote extending the life of the plants. On Wednesday, Sӧder called for the federal government to make its position clear. “Decisions are finally needed,” he said.
Even the coalition partners in Scholz’s SPD-led government have spoken in favour of an extension. The FDP has made statements indicating that they would support such a move, while the Greens have said that an extension might be justifiable, given the current circumstances. It’s certainly likely to curry more favour than the government’s recent decision to reignite its dirty coal-powered stations, and it has the broad support of the public.
Russian gas savings to hit Germany hard
After Russia significantly reduced deliveries of gas to Germany via the Nord Stream 1 pipeline - down to 20 percent in recent weeks - the federal republic is urgently looking for ways to fill its energy gap. EU leaders recently handed down the recommendation that all bloc countries should seek to reduce their consumption by 15 percent by March 2023, but Germany also needs a more long-term solution.
This is because the federal republic currently uses more Russian gas than any other country in the bloc. According to a recent study by the dpa, in order to achieve the EU’s 15-percent savings targets, Germany would need to reduce its gas consumption by 10 billion cubic metres by March next year - more than any other country in the EU.
For comparison, Italy needs to save around 8 billion cubic metres of gas by next year to meet the target, while France and the Netherlands must reduce consumption by around 5 billion cubic metres. Overall, the EU plans to save around 45 billion cubic metres of gas - meaning Germany would be responsible for almost a quarter of the total savings.