Berlin (dpa) - German Environment Minister Steffi Lemke has defended a controversial decision by her cabinet colleague, Economy Minister Robert Habeck, to continue operating two nuclear power plants in the first quarter of 2023.
"I think it is reasonable to keep these two nuclear power plants online for a few more months," the Green politician told broadcaster RTL/ntv on Wednesday, adding that she rejected the continued operation beyond that timeframe.
Habeck announced that the Isar 2 and Neckarwestheim nuclear power plants would "probably" remain online in the first quarter of 2023.
Germany had been set to shutter the last of its three nuclear plants at the end of year, but the war in Ukraine led to fears the country would need all available sources of energy to get through the winter.
So in a major U-turn for the centre-left government, Habeck - also from the Greens - unveiled plans earlier this month to keep two of the three plants as potential backup through April in case they were needed.
The decision triggered contentious debate within the three-way coalition, with nuclear opponents saying the plants must be turned off as planned, while proponents argued for their operational lifespans to be extended for several more years.
Irene Mihalic of the Greens said on Wednesday that the decision to keep two plants online in the first quarter of 2023 did not represent a departure from the nuclear phase-out.
"We are not talking about a lifetime extension here," she said.
Members of the opposition CDU also criticized the decision.
Deputy party leader Michael Kretschmer said Habeck had chosen a temporary solution over a more permanent one for ideological reasons.
Habeck is not addressing the issue that concerns people, namely rising prices, the politician told Deutschlandfunk radio on Wednesday.
Also on Wednesday, the German government agreed that coal-fired power plants are to be allowed to remain on the grid longer than intended.
"It is good that we now agree that electricity capacities must be significantly expanded. Extending the operating lives of coal-fired power plants until 31 March 31, 2024, gives operators planning security in restarting plants that are in reserve," said Christian Dürr, parliamentary group leader for the pro-business FDP.
In addition to coal-fired power plants, lignite-fired power plants are also to return to the electricity market from the beginning of October.
## Note to editors - Adds info on coal-fired power plants, reax from Greens and CDU - dpa photos