The half-way solution of keeping two nuclear power plants on standby pleased no one

Germany’s nuclear stay cannot quell debate

A half-hearted decision to leave two nuclear power plants on standby did not suit anyone – Copyright AFP/File Christof STACHE

Sebastian ESH

Germany’s decision to keep two nuclear power plants on standby for the winter amid power shortages exposed cracks in the government and drew criticism from economic and energy experts.

A major turn in public policy came after a second stress test to assess Germany’s energy security as Russia cuts gas supplies to Europe.

Germany’s three remaining nuclear power plants were due to be decommissioned at the end of the year. Instead, the two fleets will be kept in reserve “until mid-April 2023 if necessary,” Economics Minister Robert Habeck said on Monday.

But the decision was a “stress test” for Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s coalition of Social Democrats, the Greens of Habek and the liberal FDP, reports the Sueddeutsche Zeitung daily.

Finance Minister Christian Lindner of the FDP made no attempt to hide his desire to keep the three plants running and not just idle.

“We shouldn’t be too picky, but instead do whatever makes our lives easier,” he told the Sueddeutsche Zeitung on Monday ahead of the announcement of the nuclear program.

This included “the continued operation of nuclear power plants until at least 2024,” the FDP boss said.

In a sign that he has not changed his position, Lindner also retweeted several voices in his party criticizing the Monday night decision as not far enough.

– “Kept running” –

Habek’s decision partially delays the phase-out of nuclear power that was decided by former chancellor Angela Merkel after the Fukushima disaster in 2011.

He said the topic of nuclear power “is connected with a lot of emotions” but a partial extension is needed to avoid an “extremely unlikely” electricity crisis.

But in light of skyrocketing energy bills, every possible resource had to be mobilized, according to Veronica Grimm, a member of the government’s council of economic advisers.

“This means not only coal-fired power plants, but also nuclear power plants,” she told the daily FAZ on Tuesday.

“Installations must be running and not just on standby, as is currently planned, because only then will this bring down the price of electricity,” she said.

The government should consider extending the life of the plants by five years, and even reopening recently closed plants, to keep prices “within certain limits,” she said.

In contrast, Claudia Kemfert of the DIW Institute for Economic Research has pointed out that “nuclear plants are not suited to operate as grid standbys because they cannot be easily started and shut down.”

Meanwhile, financial newspaper Handelsblatt wrote that the partial renewal was simply “the worst possible solution.”

– “Completely absurd” –

“We are approaching an energy crisis,” said opposition CDU leader Friedrich Merz in an interview with German public radio.

The shutdown of power generation during the crisis was “completely absurd,” he said, adding that the war-related crisis was being exacerbated by “decisions by the federal government.”

Habek “avoided the risk of coming into conflict with part of his party,” writes Handelsblatt.

The extension is a sensitive issue for the Greens, whose roots are in Germany’s anti-nuclear movement.

The decision was “difficult to make but necessary in its current form,” Green Party leader Omid Nuripur told public television.

On Monday, Habeck stressed that Germany would not abandon its nuclear phase-out plan.

“There will be no new fuel rods,” he said, adding that the problems this winter “cannot be compared” with next.

The Habek Ministry has chartered five floating liquefied natural gas (LNG) import terminals to replace supplies from Russia, the first of which is due to be operational by the end of the year.

At the same time, he also took steps to restart mothballed coal-fired plants and fill up gas storage before winter to avoid energy shortages.

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