Growing concern about the impact that a possible total cut-off of Russian gas could have on the economy and the daily lives of Germans has reignited the debate about the fate of the last three existing nuclear power plants, which were scheduled to be shut down by the end of this year.
The opposition Union bloc, the alliance of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) with the Christian Social Union of Bavaria(CSU), has frequently called for a life extension of the nuclear plants, as has the pro-business liberal Free Democratic Party(FDP).
Finance Minister Christian Lindner, chairman of the FDP, said in press statements that if necessary the plants should be kept in operation until 2024 and asked Economics Minister Robert Habeck - under whose responsibility the energy sector falls - to stop using gas to generate electricity.
Two other strange demands for the extension of the life cycle of the nuclear power plants come from two parties that have always opposed the use of nuclear energy: the Social Democratic Party(SPD), to which Chancellor Scholz belongs, and the Green Party (Grüne), of Minister Habeck. An alliance government between these parties had decided to stop the use of nuclear energy 20 years ago.
Minister Habeck has long argued that keeping the reactors running would be legally and technically complex and would do little to solve electricity generation problems. "We have a heating problem or an industrial problem, but not an electricity problem, at least not in the whole country," he had said in July.
In the first quarter of the year, nuclear generation accounted for 6% of total electricity generation, and gas-fired generation accounted for 13%. Minister Lindner said that "we have to make sure that we do not add an electricity crisis to the gas crisis".
The Greens have hinted that they would accept that one or two reactors could continue to operate for a certain time with their current fuel rods to cope with power supply emergencies, but not for much longer.
Other qualified observers, such as Juergen Trittin, who was environment minister during the first phase of the nuclear phase-out, are of the opinion that reactor life extension would imply a change in the existing law on the matter and that this should not be changed.
On the opposite side of the fence, those who advocate the reopening of the reactors, such as opposition leader Friedrich Merz, are pressing the government to procure new fuel rods in order to reactivate the reactors. In this situation, they say, it is possible to envisage a life extension of at least five more years.
According to government spokeswoman Christiane Hoffman, before making a decision, Chancellor Scholz is awaiting stress tests on the safety of the power system, by which it is tested for safety, reliability and operational capacity under maximum stress conditions . The last test had been carried out in May and its results showed that, at that time, the supply was guaranteed.
Due to the crisis, the government has authorized the start-up of 10 coal-fired power plants that remained closed and 6 that use fuel oil . Other coal-fired plants that were due to close in November will be allowed to continue operating.