01 Aug 2022, 13:20
Benjamin Wehrmann

German Greens struggle to find firm position on limited nuclear plant runtime extension

ARD / Tagesspiegel / Handelsblatt / ZDF

The debate about extending the runtime of Germany’s three remaining nuclear plants for a limited period poses a challenge to the Green Party, as it struggles to present a joint position in the discussions over whether the reactors can be a viable option in the current energy supply crisis. While the Greens clearly reject a true extension of nuclear power where plants would stay online for years to come, some in the party are open to the idea of a limited extension that “stretches” the use time of existing fuel rods and does not include procuring new ones. Former Green Party co-leader and current parliament vice president Katrin Göring-Eckardt said a longer use of the existing fuel elements would be an option in a “true emergency situation.” Some Green Party groups at the state level, for example in Bavaria and Thuringia, signaled they would accept a limited extension; while other state organisations, for example in Lower Saxony, wholly rejected the idea, public broadcaster ARD reported. The debate intensified following a proposal by finance minister Christian Lindner from the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) at the end of July to “rethink" the country's energy strategy” and keep the nuclear plants scheduled for decommissioning at the end of 2022 in operation for several more years. Green Party co-head Ricarda Lang rejected this proposal in an interview with public broadcaster ZDF. "What Christian Lindner wants is a return to nuclear power, and that will definitely not happen with us," she said. Former Green environment minister Jürgen Trittin, who oversaw Germany’s initial decision to end nuclear power in the year 2000, said he is firmly against a prolonged use. However, the question would have to be debated at a party convention, Trittin told newspaper Tagesspiegel. “If we really want to amend the nuclear exit law, this cannot happen without a party convention.”

Germany currently aims to shut down its last three nuclear plants at the end of this year, but the debate about prolonging their use has gained new momentum as worries about a gas shortage have increased in recent days, due to Russia cutting deliveries further. The extent to which nuclear power could help in the current crisis is heatedly debated, as only a small share of gas is used in power production (most is used for heating buildings and in industry), and flexible gas power plants are often only used to provide electricity during certain peak demand periods – a function nuclear plants could not fulfil.

The Green-led economy and climate ministry so far said it awaits the results of a second so-called “stress test” that is meant to assess the usefulness of longer nuclear plant runtimes “based on facts and analyses instead of acclamation”. This is also what the Green Party intends to do, co-head Lang told ZDF. The test’s results are expected to be published at the end of August. Politicians in the opposition CDU/CSU conservative alliance welcomed Lindner’s proposal, with some even calling for an extension of several years, business daily Handelsblatt reported. On the other hand, the leader of chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democrats (SPD), Saskia Esken, rejected an extended runtime. “We are not led by ideology here,” Esken told public broadcaster ZDF, arguing that all arguments that so far spoke against nuclear power are still valid. “Many questions have not been answered yet,” she said.

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