In Christian Lindner’s team, they recently got really upset about Gerhard Papke. The former FDP parliamentary group leader in North Rhine-Westphalia is an opponent of Lindner. The fact that he is now attacking the party chairman because of his course, according to Lindner’s team, is therefore no wonder, it is dubious to take him seriously and to quote him at all.
Papke had warned, among other things, that the traffic light coalition would dilute its own brand core and called on Lindner to finally dare difficult debates, especially those about extending the nuclear lifetime.
“Many people who are familiar with energy policy say that, because of the Russian war, we should have set the course long ago for extended operating times for the last three nuclear power plants, which would otherwise go offline at the end of the year,” Papke told the Tagesspiegel.
The FDP top candidate for the Lower Saxony state elections on October 9, Stefan Birkner, also called for decisions to be made quickly now, since the energy companies need six months’ notice.
And now Lindner is doing exactly what critics like Papke called for and what the FDP decided at the party conference in April. “People expect that all options will be considered because of climate protection, dependence on Putin and inflation,” said the Federal Finance Minister of the “Bild” – he even wants to discuss a general return to nuclear power.
From an economic point of view, he is not yet convinced that new investments in nuclear power will pay off. “But Germany must not close its eyes to a debate that is taking place all over the world.”
His cabinet colleague Robert Habeck (Greens) is trying to stop the request. “There is not much more to say about nuclear energy,” said the Economics Minister. “The subject was reviewed professionally at the beginning of the legislature free of ideology, that was decided by the relevant ministries – and politically as well.” That is not a path that Germany will continue to pursue, he said.
Instead, Habeck will present a comprehensive concept for saving energy this Friday. There is no speed limit, despite the high oil and petrol prices. This in turn blocks the FDP. If the head of the International Energy Agency, Fatih Birol, has his way, both sides should now get over their shadows.
He thinks more nuclear power is necessary because of the sharp rise in energy prices. And he recently told Der Spiegel: “Germany should now introduce a speed limit, at least for the duration of the war.”
Three nuclear power plants will run until the end of 2022, and the CDU is also calling for the runtimes to be extended. Isar 2 in Bavaria, operated by the Eon subsidiary PreussenElektra, Neckarwestheim 2 in Baden-Württemberg, operated by EnBW, and Emsland in Lower Saxony, operated by RWE. A spokeswoman for PreussenElektra emphasizes that “under certain conditions it would be possible to continue operating Isar 2 if our power plant were needed”. But that needs a lead time.
Above all, three questions had to be clarified: how long the fuel will last and when new fuel rods would be available, and which personnel would be required to carry out the appropriate safety checks.
There is a dismissal at EnBW, but here you have to know that the state of Baden-Württemberg holds 46.75 percent of the third largest German energy supplier – and that is governed by the Green Winfried Kretschmann. “After the decision to phase out in 2011, EnBW worked out a long-term strategy for the dismantling of its nuclear power plants, which it has been consistently implementing ever since,” emphasizes the company with a view to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s (CDU) decision to exit after the Fukushima disaster.
The current legal framework excludes electricity production in Block II of the Neckarwestheim nuclear power plant “beyond December 31, 2022.” Last Saturday, the power plant was shut down for a final inspection, there are tests on the turbine, generator and a high-pressure Preheater in the engine house, around 450 specialists are involved. RWE initially left a request for continued operation unanswered.
All three power plants each have an output of around 1,400 megawatts. According to RWE, Emsland alone supplies around 3.5 million households with electricity. The power plant saves the atmosphere around ten million tons of CO2 emissions every year.
According to the BDEW energy association, nuclear energy accounted for 11.9 percent of gross electricity generation last year, while lignite accounted for 18.6 percent, hard coal for 9.3 percent and natural gas for 15.3 percent. Renewable energies accounted for 40.9 percent.
The liberals and the Union fear that this electricity mix will change negatively, with financial consequences for citizens and the economy. Habeck has more lignite-fired power plants in reserve, and the proportion of hard coal will also increase – it is now to be procured more from countries such as Colombia instead of from Russia.
The hitherto high proportion of gas power is to be reduced despite the planned phasing out of nuclear power due to the war and record prices. The problem with this is that gas-fired power plants can be started up and shut down the fastest to compensate for weather-related fluctuations in wind and solar power production. In the event of sharply rising electricity prices, the Greens in particular are threatened with unpleasant debates because of the blockade on extending the lifetime of nuclear power. Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) is trying not to get too involved, but his party has not wanted to unravel the exit either.
The energy economist Andreas Loechel from the Ruhr University fears that such a life extension would only be possible if the state took on more financial risks. “And you can’t hope that the prices will drop massively as a result,” he says in an interview with the Tagesspiegel. The development of the CO2 price in emissions trading is more decisive. In the end, Loeschel sees two dimensions in Lindner’s interjection. “One is: do you keep these power plants running? I wouldn’t be dogmatic about that.” The other is: “Are we building new nuclear power plants? I think that’s completely absurd.”
But even extending the term would be problematic. “It would not only be a loss of face, but a massive shake-up of confidence in politics if you said: We’re going to phase out for ten years and we’ll end it last year because of fewer power plants.” To keep prices under control, that would be simplest solution, the coal-fired power plants, which are currently as a reserve of a kind of stand-by operation, bring in more, in order to save gas in gas-fired power plants.
But that would in turn be worse for the climate than nuclear power. Here, too, the Russian war has led to conflicting goals that are difficult to resolve. Lindner has no solution ready, but at least he can say that he fueled the debate and sharpened the FDP profile.