NUCLEAR POWERWill Germany Return to Nuclear Power?

By Elizabeth Schumacher

Published 23 June 2022

As Germany moves to wean itself off Russian energy, politicians are debating a pause to the country’s planned nuclear phaseout. Experts warn, however, that it may not be so easy.

Germany is heading into an energy crisis as Russia cuts gas supplies in retaliation for sanctions over its invasion of Ukraine.

Finance Minister Christian Lindner warned this week that the country was on the brink of a “very serious economic crisis,” and the government needed to explore all avenues to plug the gaps in the nation’s energy supply.

To that end, Linder’s business-focused Free Democrats (FDP), the smallest party in Berlin’s governing coalition alongside the Green Party and the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), have called to postpone Germany’s nuclear energy phaseout. After several shutdowns in 2021, Germany currently still has three nuclear power stations running to provide 11% of the country’s electricity. They are all set to be switched off by the end of the year.

Germany’s Opposition to Nuclear Power
The use of nuclear energy as a “green” alternative to fossil fuels is controversial in Germany. The Green Party has argued for decades that the environmental hazards of disposing of nuclear waste vastly outnumbered the benefits.

When they came to power in a coalition government under SPD Chancellor Gerhard Schröder in 1998, they pushed successfully for the phaseout of nuclear energy. The subsequent conservative government under the center-right Christian Democrat Chancellor Angela Merkel first rolled back the timeline, but the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan turned the tide again and Merkel pushed her party toward the phaseout after all.

The CDU is now Germany’s largest opposition party, and has been demanding that the nuclear phaseout be called off. “It is technically and legally possible” for the three remaining reactors to keep on operating beyond the end of this year, said CDU chairman Friedrich Merz on Tuesday.

He was contradicting Chancellor Olaf Scholz of the SPD, who had argued it would be too hard to source the necessary nuclear fuel rods in time. Scholz said that “no one has provided me with a feasible plan” to quickly increase the output of Germany’s three remaining nuclear plants — which as of now provide only 11% of the country’s electricity.

The Branchenverband Kernenergie, an umbrella organization for nuclear energy businesses in Germany, told the Müncher Merkur newspaper that an extension was indeed possible, but called for quick decision-making. “The power plants are in the process of shutting down. The longer you wait, the more difficult it will be to start them up again,” it said.