17 Oct 2022, 13:29
Benjamin Wehrmann

German coalition still at odds over nuclear power as Green Party accepts limited extension

Bild / Der Spiegel

The dispute over delaying the completion of Germany’s nuclear phase-out drags on within the country’s coalition government. A meeting between chancellor Olaf Scholz from the Social Democrats (SPD), economy and climate minister Robert Habeck (Greens) and finance minister Christian Lindner from the Free Democrats (FDP) to resolve the quarrel over nuclear power ended without an agreement. Talks among the senior party figures should continue this week, with Scholz aiming for a decision by Tuesday, newspaper Bild reported. The nuclear dispute pits the Greens, who want to strictly limit the runtime extension to two plants until next spring, against the Free Democrats, who say a longer delay of the phase-out – until at least 2024 - is necessary for all three remaining plants. The SPD, meanwhile, shuns taking a firm position on the matter. Chancellor Scholz had said a limited extension is being prepared and the "actual conditions" under which this would take place are being assessed. He had also promised that the disagreement would soon be resolved.

At a party convention this past weekend, the Green Party accepted a limited extension for two remaining plants, Isar 2 and Neckarwestheim 2 in southern Germany, which was proposed by minister Habeck as a backup option for the power grid in the coming winter. However, the party rejected the purchase of new nuclear fuel rods that would be needed to prolong operations beyond April 2023 and said the third plant, Emsland in northern Germany, should go offline as planned at the end of this year. Green co-leader Ricarda Lang told news magazine Der Spiegel that buying new fuel rods would constitute a "red line" for her party. "If we bought new fuel rods now, this would mean long-term investments in nuclear power. That’s not the way into the future," Lang said. FDP leader Christian Lindner, who in July called for a complete rethink of Germany’s nuclear policy, countered in an interview with newspaper Die Welt that there would be "no red lines for me when it comes to avoiding damage to our country, reducing crippling energy prices, and ruling out blackouts." The pro-business FDP has come under pressure to prove its capacity to influence government policy, after constantly losing support in polls over the past months, and failing to enter the state parliament of Lower Saxony in early October, in the first major state election after the energy crisis started to weigh on business prospects and household budgets.

Extending the remaining plants' lifetime beyond April would not only necessitate the procurement of new fuel rods, but would also further distort long-standing phase-out plans by the plants’ operators, including decommissioning and dismantling preparations and delayed retirements for workers. It would also necessitate fresh security checks and operating licenses for the remaining reactors that were slated to go offline by 31 December. According to Germany’s government, defunct nuclear plants in France play a major role in whether German nuclear plants will have to help stabilise the wider European grid in winter, as about half of the French reactor capacity has been out of operation in the past months for maintenance.

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