No no no no no. No no no no no. Ten times no. And there are more to come. If, in retrospect, it is about a historic about-face by the anti-nuclear party Die Grünen in the summer of 2022, the excerpt from an interview by the ZDF-heute-journal with the Prime Minister of Baden-Württemberg, Winfried Kretschmann, is part of the testimony.
Moderator Christian Sievers understood him to mean that the Greens continue to reject longer terms beyond the end of 2022, despite the gas crisis. This was followed by Kretschmann’s no staccato.
“I didn’t claim that.” Neither the Greens nor any other democratic party, only the AfD, wanted to go back to nuclear power, but it’s now about dealing with a special situation.
The situation has also changed fundamentally for Economics Minister Robert Habeck (Greens). When he announced in March, after an initial examination, that it would also be possible without nuclear power in the coming winter, the situation was different.
Gas flowed reliably through the Baltic Sea pipeline Nord Stream 1, despite the Vladimir Putin-ordered invasion of Ukraine and Western sanctions against Moscow. Germany is now the victim of its own energy policy, of being chained to Russian supplies.
Baden-Württemberg Finance Minister Danyal Bayaz finds it unworthy of the anxious gaze that Gazprom has announced for the daily deliveries, with only 20 percent of the usual volume being delivered through Nord Stream 1. “There is something humiliating about public lamentations about reduced quantities. Putin has us right where he wants us. It’s tragic,” criticized Bayaz.
So that this situation does not lead to the collapse of entire value chains, cold apartments and unaffordable energy bills, so that as many cubic meters of gas as possible can really only be used for heating and industry, leading Greens have been preparing a turnaround for days, letting the remaining nuclear power plants run longer. The hope is that such a signal, which is extremely difficult for the party, will also encourage the citizens themselves to save more energy, including shorter shower times.
The situation in France provided a decisive impetus, because in addition to the gas crisis, an electricity crisis is also approaching, which is being exacerbated by the gas bottlenecks. 30 of the 56 nuclear reactors are out of service there, partly because of cooling water problems. In order to help out with electricity, a lot of gas is currently being converted in Germany, but this means that the storage tanks can only be insufficiently filled for the winter.
As a sign of European solidarity to avoid power outages. Therefore, the European partners are putting massive pressure on Germany to leave the last three reactors Isar 2 (Bavaria/Eon), Neckarwestheim 2 (Baden-Württemberg/EnBW) and Emsland (Lower Saxony/RWE) longer on the grid.
Some Greens have brought into play a so-called stretching operation, only a few months longer, in order to continue to use fuel elements that have not yet been spent. However, it would be a real extension of the service life if one also decided that new fuel elements could be bought from the operators.
In Green circles, it is now assumed that the Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology is no longer holy about the nuclear phase-out and is working towards untying the package and possibly even achieving a significant extension of the lifespan – but Green Party leader Ricarda Lang has so far clearly rejected this. But the pressure is increasing every day. Ultimately, nuclear power could come back into play as a bridging technology to bridge the next few winters until complete independence from Russian natural gas supplies without major upheaval.
But Green leader Lang draws a red line for Habeck. “We have always said that we are constantly checking what is necessary based on the facts. But the fact is that we have a gas shortage and nuclear power plants are hardly of any help. There will be no extension of service life, i.e. the procurement of new fuel rods, with us,” Lang told the “Tagesspiegel”. But she did not rule out a so-called stretching operation, where usable fuel elements can be used beyond the actual end of the service life in December 2022. “We are now doing the stress test for electricity again. Of course we are looking at the results, but as of now there is nothing to suggest it.”
A Tagesspiegel inquiry about this information circulating in the party initially went unanswered. The traffic light coalition partner FDP is already putting pressure on an early change to the Atomic Energy Act. The energy policy spokesman for the FDP parliamentary group, Michael Kruse, emphasized to the Tagesspiegel: “The German nuclear power plants can be extended until spring 2024. In this way, they can help ensure that Europe does not experience an energy shortage over the next two winters.”
Kruse proposes that the Federal Government should clarify how maximum safety can be guaranteed and whether new fuel elements are required in the short term in individual cases for this purpose at a nuclear energy summit with the operators and industry associations.
With regard to France, FDP parliamentary group leader Christian Dürr appealed to the Greens’ feeling of solidarity, which sees itself as a European party. “We expect European solidarity for the winter. It is therefore right that Germany also shows solidarity. We must therefore also use everything that can contribute to electricity production. Nuclear power plants are part of it,” Dürr told the Bild newspaper.
Habeck, who will chair the cabinet meeting for the first time this Wednesday on behalf of Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD), who is on leave, is also under pressure from other sources. Leading economists criticize that Habeck is only relying on appeals for savings instead of more financial incentives. “The economy clearly shows that appeals bring almost nothing,” said Klaus Schmidt, chairman of the scientific advisory board at the Ministry of Economic Affairs, the Handelsblatt. He and his 37 colleagues sent a letter to Minister Habeck. “The ignorance of price signals is already taking revenge,” criticized Veronika Grimm.
In April, the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW) showed how much gas could be saved if direct action had been taken. In the best-case scenario, natural gas consumption could have fallen by almost 33 percent compared to 2021. In fact, Germany saved just 16 percent in the first six months of the year. This can perhaps be increased a little, but just as a nuclear power plant extension was categorically ruled out in order to carry out a stress test again, too little happened when it came to saving energy over the months – that makes the prospects gloomy. DIW project manager Claudia Kemfert told the Handelsblatt: “It can’t get much better than in our worst scenario.”