Despite Hints by Top Officials, Germany Says it Hasn’t Yet Decided to Delay Nuclear Power Phaseout

Berlin ( – The German government is denying reports that it has made a decision to delay the scheduled year-end shutdown of its last three nuclear plants.

But amid rising prices and shortage fears arising from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and attempts by Europe to wean itself off Russian natural gas, the reports have reignited the debate here over nuclear energy.

The Economic Affairs and Climate Protection Ministry disputed a Wall Street Journal article citing unnamed senior government officials as saying the three plants’ operations would be extended beyond December.

“This report is incorrect and lacks any factual basis,” a ministry spokeswoman said on Wednesday.

The government’s current “stress tests” to determine energy grid stability had stoked speculation over a possible reversal of the planned nuclear phase out.


Despite prior firm opposition to any rollback by governing coalition parties – the Social Democrats and Greens – officials including Chancellor Olaf Scholz himself have of late cautiously signaled that such a decision is no longer out of the question.

“The federal government has not yet made any decision about how to deal with the three remaining German nuclear reactors after the end of this year,” the T-Online news service quoted a government spokesman as saying on Wednesday. The spokesman added that a decision will only be made “in the light of the results of a stress test.”

Scholz also hinted that the pending test results could affect the decision.

“A stress test is currently running, in which we will check again whether the operation of the remaining three nuclear power plants, which are supposed to go offline on December 31, could be stretched a bit to get through the winter,” he said on Tuesday, following an energy summit in Oslo.

The Economics ministry spokeswoman said it could take several weeks for the test results to be known.

“When the results are in, we will inform the public,” she said.

The stress test is essentially an analysis involving a series of calculations based on various assumptions.

Earlier tests assessing the potential impact of tense energy markets and rising prices as a result of the war, as well as a reduction of supply from French power plants, concluded the supply was secure, even with a nuclear phase out.

A second test will now calculate based on more stringent assumptions, including even higher prices, a more serious failure of gas supplies, and even less supply from the French nuclear sector.

Debate reignites as options dwindle

Former Chancellor Angela Merkel greenlighted a decision to phase out nuclear energy a little over a decade ago, and three plants were shut down late last year.

The remaining three due to stop operating in December, Neckarwestheim, Essenbach and Emsland, together produced just six percent of German electricity in the first quarter of 2022, according to data from the Federal Statistical Office. Despite this relatively modest contribution, the government is under increasing pressure to secure energy supplies ahead of the winter.

Attempts to look elsewhere for sources of energy have also brought middling results.

Norway, Germany’s second-largest gas supplier after Russia, increased gas deliveries to the E.U. by ten percent since the beginning of the Ukraine war, but Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Störe told Scholz at the Oslo summit that his country was providing “the maximum that we can deliver.”

Scholz was met with similar remarks during a visit to Sweden, where Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said a high-voltage line from Sweden to Germany was also already operating at its limit.

Elsewhere, efforts by Economy Minister Robert Habeck to secure LNG supplies from Qatar have also been unsuccessful.

The diminishing options ahead of winter have helped to stoke debate over the nuclear phase out.

Christian Democrat Union (CDU) deputy chairman Jens Spahn called on Scholz’ SPD to agree to an extension of nuclear power. The CDU last month submitted an application to parliament requesting such an extension, but it was rejected.

“This politically motivated blockade must finally be abandoned. Germany and Europe urgently need this electricity in winter,” Spahn said on Tuesday. “Record prices clearly show that we are also in an electricity crisis.”

Lower Saxony CDU lawmaker Albert Stegemann said an extension made sense in the face of Russian “blackmail.”

The governing coalition’s junior partner, the Free Democrats (FDP), also favor an extension, with the party’s Lower Saxony leader Stefan Birkner calling the Greens’ resistance “ideologically motivated” and “irresponsible.”

In an ARD opinion poll, more than 80 percent of respondents favored an extension of nuclear energy supply, with around 40 percent favoring even longer term use of nuclear power. Only 15 percent were in favor of sticking to the year-end phase out.

Germany’s energy security is also important for its neighbors, many of which receive energy supply from or via the country. There have been calls  from Hungary, Romania, Slovakia and France for Germany to keep the nuclear plants operating, as a way to help conserve gas supplies for Europe.

“If Germany wants to save gas, then please let its nuclear power plants continue to run,” Slovakia’s economics minister said on the sidelines of E.U. consultations in Brussels last month.

Scholz on Tuesday acknowledged Germany’s role in helping others in the E.U.

“We not only have a responsibility for the power supply in Germany, but also for that of our European neighbors,” he said.


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