Germany’s environment minister signaled she’s willing to consider extending the operating life of an EON SE nuclear plant in Bavaria into next year if an ongoing government assessment concludes this is necessary.
Steffi Lemke, a member of the Green Party which is ideologically opposed to nuclear energy, said if the “stress test” of Germany’s power infrastructure shows that Bavaria has “a serious electricity or grid problem,” the government would “evaluate this situation and the options that then exist.”
That could include reversing a decision to shut the Isar 2 facility northwest of Munich, the nation’s largest nuclear plant, Lemke said in an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung published on Saturday. Isar 2 provides about 12% of Bavaria’s annual electricity needs and supplies some 3.5 million households, according to operator PreussenElektra GmbH, an EON subsidiary.
Germany decided to exit atomic energy following the accident in Fukushima, Japan, in 2011. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the resulting uncertainty around supplies of gas prompted calls for the nation’s three remaining nuclear plants, including Isar 2, to remain online beyond the end of this year, when they are due to be shuttered.
Economy Minister Robert Habeck, a Greens member who’s also vice chancellor, commissioned another analysis of Germany’s energy security after an earlier assessment concluded that supply wouldn’t be endangered this winter, and nuclear power plants wouldn’t be needed. It’s not clear when the results of the latest study will be published.
Former Chancellor Angela Merkel was the main driving force behind Germany’s nuclear exit but members of her conservative CDU/CSU bloc, now the main opposition force in parliament, have been pushing hard for the ruling coalition to agree a temporary reversal.
“The gas shortage predicted by the Federal Network Agency is huge and will affect all areas of the energy sector,” Alexander Dobrindt, the head of the Bavarian CSU party in the lower house of parliament, said in an interview with Welt am Sonntag newspaper published Saturday.
“That is why the federal government must finally make the decision that the nuclear power plants can continue to operate,” he said. “We will be exposed to Putin’s brutal attempt to destabilize the West through energy terror for a long time to come.”
Pressure is also coming from within Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s three-party governing alliance. Finance Minister Christian Lindner, chairman of the business-friendly Free Democrats, has pushed for a nuclear extension to at least be considered.
Prolonging the operating life of reactors into 2023 is “the right step to secure our energy supply and provide relief to the electricity market,” according to Christian Duerr, a deputy head of the FDP’s parliamentary caucus.
“Extending the term is also a question of European solidarity,” Duerr was quoted as saying Saturday in an interview with the Rheinische Post newspaper.
“I don’t see how we in the EU are supposed to explain that we are shutting down functioning power plants for ideological reasons while France fears an electricity blackout,” he added. “This debate is not only about us, but also about our neighbors, because we depend on them when it comes to gas.”
Germany’s Office for the Safety of Nuclear Waste Management has argued that extending the lifetime of a handful of reactors would make only a very small contribution to energy supplies.
Such a move would not only have to take into account the safety of the plants, but also the disposal of radioactive waste, according to an article by Wolfram Koenig, the office’s president, published Saturday.
“The costs to society as a whole of the continued operation of the plants would be considerable,” Koenig wrote in FAS. “The social consensus that has been achieved with great difficulty would also be fundamentally called into question,” he added.