Vizekanzler und Wirtschaftsminister Robert Habeck vor der woechentlichen Kabinettsitzung in Abwesenheit vom Kanzler Scholz im Kanzleramt in Berlin am 27. Juli 2022. Kabinettssitzung in Berlin *** Vice Chancellor and Minister of Economic Affairs Robert Habeck before the weekly cabinet meeting in the absence of Chancellor Scholz in the Chancellery in Berlin on July 27, 2022 Cabinet meeting in Berlin

The electricity stress test will run for a few more weeks, and the results should be available in August. But for Federal Economics Minister Robert Habeck (Greens) and his party, it is becoming increasingly difficult to keep the debate under control. Joachim Bühler, Managing Director of the TÜV Association, is currently on vacation, but from this he has now raised a particularly sensitive debate.

He sees it as technically feasible, in addition to the three nuclear power plants Isar 2, Neckarwestheim 2 and Emsland, which are still running, to restart the Brokdorf, Grohnde and Gundremmingen C plants, which were shut down at the end of 2021, and thus six plants beyond 2022 due to the problems caused by the lack of gas to keep running. However, Brokdorf in particular is a symbol of the struggle of the anti-nuclear movement, from which the Greens emerged.

Green party leader Katharina Dröge tries to capture the debate that started via the “Bild” newspaper. “Such statements show what many are actually concerned with: the reversal of the nuclear phase-out,” tweeted Dröge. “The reference to the coming winter was a mock debate from the start, because in a gas shortage, the atom is almost useless!”

But this argument that nuclear power is of no use in the current situation is being rejected by more and more experts, especially since the alternative would be even more climate-damaging electricity from coal and oil-fired power plants. And in order to secure gas for heating and for industry, electricity production also has a certain importance in the nuclear power plants. The situation has changed again compared to the first stress test due to the gas throttling and electricity bottlenecks.

The Greens are faced with the tricky question of sticking to the exit at the end of 2022 or being held responsible if there are significant effects in the electricity sector and anger among citizens breaks ground. Heinz Smital, nuclear physicist and Greenpeace nuclear expert, like Dröge, doesn’t think much of such advances. “This statement is misleading and dangerous. All three nuclear power plants that are still connected to the grid are running without the mandatory ten-year safety check, which should have been due in 2019,” emphasizes Smital. This was dispensed with due to the imminent phase-out of nuclear power.

“For the nuclear power plants that have already been shut down, the ten-year review is even longer, so restarting is ruled out.” Savings are more important. “Even lowering the heating temperature by just half a degree could compensate for the continued operation of the nuclear power plants.”

But what Smital doesn’t say: natural gas accounted for 14.5 percent of gross electricity generation in the first five months, as Habeck’s ministry had to admit. Because of the high level of electricity exports to France, for example, more gas than usual was also converted into electricity. In such situations, nuclear power plants can significantly reduce gas requirements, say experts.

In an interview with the Tagesspiegel, the TÜV expert Bühler emphasized: “We have a very, very good overview of the situation of the nuclear power plants in Germany and in March we looked at the three plants that are still in operation as well as those which went offline at the end of 2021.”

At that time, dismantling had not yet started in the power plants. “Simply put, the fuel assemblies have been taken out and are in the spent fuel pool at the same facility. This means that the systems are in a condition that allows them to be restarted,” emphasizes Bühler. Ultimately, it is all a question of political will. “If you wanted to now, it would definitely be possible from a safety point of view to start them up again once the appropriate safety checks have been carried out.”

As is well known, the FDP wants to extend the service life of at least the three plants that are still running until spring 2024, and business and industry are also warning of at least two critical winters if Vladimir Putin continues to turn on the gas tap because of western sanctions in the wake of the Ukraine war.

The SPD has so far held back while the chancellor is on vacation, but a statement by Olaf Scholz (SPD) from the 2021 federal election campaign is being brought out and disseminated again. “There is a misconception in the US that we are very dependent on this Russian gas. But that’s not correct when you look at the energy mix in Germany as a whole.”

Next to him is Annalena Baerbock, looking a little mockingly. Scholz would no longer say that today – and the Greens, who have always warned against overdependence and the construction of Nord Stream 2, may have to sacrifice one of their greatest goals, the final phase-out of nuclear power, again for some time due to the bottleneck situation .

But isn’t it already too late to allow more than one stretching operation with fuel elements that have not yet been completely burned out, which the Greens do not rule out? The Federal Ministry of Economics assumes that the procurement of new fuel rods will take more than a year. Experts, on the other hand, emphasize that fuel elements can also be procured within eight months – that could at least be enough if stretching operations were to take place for a few months beforehand. These could be bought in Canada or Sweden, for example. The CDU chairman Friedrich Merz demands that the federal government should no longer tactic, but should immediately procure new fuel rods. Habeck must “finally act now to avoid power shortages in winter,” said Merz of the Funke media group. In view of the current energy crisis, it is not only possible to maintain temporary operation with the old fuel rods in the three nuclear power plants. “We have to allow continued operation until the risk of a bottleneck has been eliminated. But we are running out of time to order new fuel rods.”