Facing an unprecedented energy crisis, Berlin will reportedly delay shuttering its last nuclear power stations
Facing a potentially cold and dark winter without enough energy sources to heat homes and businesses, Germany is poised to postpone the long-planned shutdowns of its last three nuclear power stations, the Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday, citing unidentified German government officials.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s cabinet hasn’t formally agreed to the postponement, which also will likely require a vote in Parliament, the newspaper said.
Those steps won’t be finalized until an assessment of Germany’s energy needs is completed in the coming weeks, but with Russian gas currently flowing through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline at less than 20% of capacity, officials said it’s a “foregone conclusion” that supplies won’t be adequate without the nuclear plants. Berlin has already decided to prohibit thermostats in public buildings from being set above 19 degrees Celsius during the fall and winter months, Economy Minister and Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck said on Friday.
Former Chancellor Angela Merkel promised to phase out all of Germany’s nuclear power plants by the end of 2022, in the wake of Japan’s Fukushima reactor meltdowns in 2011. Just three of the country’s 17 reactors are still operating, and they account for about 6% of German electricity output. At least some government officials reportedly believe it will be both necessary and safe to keep the plants running temporarily.
“The reactors are safe until December 31, and obviously, they will remain safe also after December 31,” an official told the WSJ.
However, the government won’t consider reopening any of its previously decommissioned nuclear plants, including the three that were closed last winter, according to the report. Despite the energy crisis, environmental groups have vowed to take legal action if the final shutdowns are postponed.
With gas shortages staring them in the face, German consumers have rushed out to buy wood to heat their homes. But with stove and wood supplies reportedly exhausted, they’re purchasing electric heaters. About 600,000 electric heaters were sold in this year’s first half, up 35% from 2021’s pace, according to research firm GFK.
The problem is, the German power grid might collapse if everyone turns on their electric heaters at the same time. “If everyone uses it to heat at the same time because it’s cold everywhere at the same time, then the network will be overloaded,” Peter Lautz, managing director of the Stadtwerke Wiesbaden Netz utility, told public broadcaster ZDF this week. “The protective devices will switch off the lines.”
Germany, like many other EU countries, has been hit by an energy crunch due to rising global prices. One of the factors exacerbating the crisis has been the uncertainty of gas supplies from Russia. However, President Vladimir Putin has rejected accusations that Moscow could cut off gas supplies to the EU, stating that Russian energy giant Gazprom is “ready to pump as much as necessary” but that the bloc has “closed everything themselves.”