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How the energy crisis drove Germany to rethink shutting down its nuclear plants

Washington Examiner logo Washington Examiner 8/7/2022 Jeremy Beaman
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German leaders are actively weighing whether to extend the life of the country's three remaining nuclear reactors as they scramble to avoid energy shortfalls, a turnabout reflecting the dire economic situation facing Europe's top economy ahead of winter.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz, a member of the Social Democrats, said Wednesday that extending the life of the plants “can make sense" in the face of the energy crisis, as the government carries out a stress test of the electric grid to see if the power sector could do without them amid deteriorating energy supply conditions associated with the war in Ukraine.


The consensus among leaders of the coalition government, including Scholz and Vice-Chancellor Robert Habeck, a member of the anti-nuclear Greens, had been to allow the plants to retire at the end of December, as scheduled under Scholz's predecessor, Angela Merkel.

That stance remained more or less unchanged well into the war in Ukraine, as Russia began incrementally cutting off European buyers from its natural gas, which is used as an industrial feedstock, for power generation, and for home heating.

Many in Berlin still oppose delaying retirements of the nuclear plants, which generate electricity without producing greenhouse gas emissions. Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, also of the Greens, countered Wednesday that keeping the plants running is "not an option."

But Russia's repeated reductions in natural gas exports to Europe have changed the calculus. The German climate and economy ministry, led by Habeck, elected in July to perform a weekslong test to see whether the grid would have sufficient power generation capacity under current conditions, or in the event of further disruption.

Germany, and Europe more broadly, is being crushed under the weight of exorbitant gas and power prices.

Gas prices on the benchmark Dutch TTF trading hub shot up as high as $60 per MMBtu in the last week. For reference, U.S. benchmark prices have been trading in the $8 per MMBtu range, which is historically high for the United States.

European power prices have soared on higher gas, too. Germany, along with Italy, France, and the United Kingdom, had its highest monthly average power prices on record in July, according to analytics firm Rystad Energy.

Months of this kind of volatility, and uncertainty as to whether Russia will keep delivering any natural gas to the European Union at all, have caused governments to pursue demand reduction measures, sign off on more coal-fired power generation, and in Germany's case, probe the feasibility of extending the life of the remaining three plants.

The current stress test is the government's second look at the nuclear retirement question since the war began.

Habeck said in February, in the days after the invasion of Ukraine began, that "there are no taboos" on the subject of energy security, saying the priority was phasing out fossil fuels.

That suggested an openness to keeping the reactors running, but after the review concluded in early March that extending the reactors' life was not recommended, Habeck said doing so "would not help us."

Conditions have significantly changed since then. The EU has approved sanctions on Russian coal imports and most oil imports and promised to cut ties with Russian fuels over time.

While the gas trade has been spared from formal EU sanctions, Russian gas company Gazprom has instituted multiple cuts to gas exports via the Nord Stream pipeline, which connects Russia to Germany, such that it is currently shipping gas at just 20% of capacity.

Gazprom has blamed technical problems, as well as EU sanctions and paperwork issues, for the shutoffs, which German and other leaders have disputed.

Extending the life of the three reactors could keep online a generating source that provided some 6% of Germany's generating mix between January and June, but it's not a done deal yet.

Scholz has insisted upon waiting for the conclusions of the stress test before the government decides one way or the other, Euractiv reported. Moreover, strong opposition remains, including among Scholz's Social Democrats.


“We will not revise the phase-out of nuclear energy,” Saskia Esken, party leader, said on Wednesday.


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Tags: Nuclear Power, Germany, Energy, Electricity, Power, Greenhouse Gases

Original Author: Jeremy Beaman

Original Location: How the energy crisis drove Germany to rethink shutting down its nuclear plants


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