The abandonment of nuclear power by the end of 2022 was a decision taken years ago in Germany that generated virtually no debate. But then came the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the energy crisis that is already dragging the European Union's leading economy into recession. After receiving the results of the latest stress test of the country' s energy supply system, Vice Chancellor and Minister of Economics and Climate Protection, the Green Robert Habeck, announced last Monday that two of the three nuclear power plants still in operation will be kept "on standby" until April 2023.
The decision is intended as a plan B in case the current energy sources that feed private consumption and industry are endangered. It is what Habeck's ministry calls "emergency use" to "protect against a specific danger to supply." Among the scenarios drawn are, for example, that coal-fired power plants reactivated to make up for the lack of Russian gas stop operating due to the lack of coal, which usually arrives by river transport, which this summer has been severely restricted by the drought. Other scenarios are that many French nuclear power plants - which export energy to Germany - stop operating, or that the price of gas continues to rise, as all indications are that it will.
"There will be no prolongation of nuclear power during this legislature," nor "the construction of new nuclear power plants," assured Robert Habeck at his appearance last Monday. For the Greens, the 'no' to nuclear energy, one of the founding principles they still retain, is non-negotiable.
In Germany there has historically been a consensus on the abandonment of nuclear power. The Chernobyl catastrophe, whose environmental consequences even affected some German regions, left its mark on public opinion in the country. The Fukushima catastrophe eventually led the Merkel government to announce in 2011 the definitive shutdown in 2022. The then Chancellor thus took up one of the historic positions of the Greens and placed her party, the conservative CDU, even more at the center of the political chessboard.
That future is already here, but the consensus forged over decades now seems to be broken by the serious energy crisis facing Germany, which has historically been heavily dependent on fossil energy imports, first from the Soviet Union and then from the Russian Federation. While Chancellor Olaf Scholz 's SPD welcomes Habeck's decision, the FDP liberals, the third leg of Germany's ruling tripartite, openly reject it. "It is a matter of good sense to now make every kilowatt-hour that does not generate emissions possible," Jogannes Vogel, vice chairman of the FDP, wrote on Twitter. The Liberals are betting on keeping the three nuclear power plants in southern Germany, the region with the fewest alternatives to renewables, in operation.
For their part, the Christian Democrats of the CDU, the leading opposition party, are not letting the internal divisions within the government pass to harden their tone against the Executive. The Christian Democrat president, the right-wing Friedrich Merz, described Habeck's decision in the Bundestag on Thursday as "madness".
Operators and environmentalists
Problems are piling up for Vice Chancellor Habeck, who has become the focus of criticism of the Federal Government in recent weeks. The operator of the Isar-2 power plant, the company Preussen Elktra, said last Wednesday that the plan to keep the plant on standby until the middle of next year "is not technically feasible," an announcement with which Habeck has taken umbrage. The green politician accuses the company of not having heeded the information provided by his ministry.
The barrage of criticism has also been joined by environmental organizations, which feel betrayed by the eco-liberal minister. Greenpeace Deutschland considers it irresponsible not to shut down the country's three remaining nuclear power plants on December 31, as stipulated in the tripartite government agreement. "Taking a major safety risk with the three old nuclear power plants is irresponsible of Habeck, despite the energy supply crisis," says Martin Kaiser, president of the environmental NGO in Germany.