German Chancellor: Germany Could Keep Nuclear Power Plants Operating After All

Yves here. A close contact who has high level contacts in Germany and reads its press religiously said as soon as the EU stated its to cut itself off from Russian energy that the only way it could happen in 2022 to the degree that Germany wanted in 2022 would be to reboot nuclear energy. Mind you, he expressed that view months ago.

Only now do we hear this bleat from German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, which is far less than an initiative, that it might be a good idea to get more nuclear power in service. As this article makes clear, this Scholz comment is at best a trial balloon. I welcome informed reader comment as to how much if at all nuclear energy output could be increased in Germany by winter. A separate issue is the diehard opposition of the Greens, both to nuclear power and presumably also to getting uranium from Russia.

By Julianne Geiger, a veteran editor, writer and researcher for Oilprice.com. Originaly published at OilPrice

Germany’s government has held firmly onto the belief that its nuclear power industry must be retired, even in the midst of an energy crisis. But today, it appears that could change, with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz saying for the first time that the country could put off the retirement of its nuclear power fleet, according to the Wall Street Journal.

“It could make sense” to keep its nuclear power plants operating, Scholz said on Wednesday, despite the current plans to retire the final three plants come December, and despite Germany’s economy and environment ministries in March recommending against extending the life of the reactors.

At the time, the German ministries concluded that extending the life of the nuclear reactors would have a “very limited” impact on alleviating Germany’s power crunch, and that it would come at a “very high economic cost”.

“If someone decides to do so now,”  Scholz said about the potential for building new nuclear power plants as recenly as in June, “they would have to spend 12-18 billion euros on each nuclear power plants and it wouldn’t open until 2037 or 2038. And besides, the fuel rods are generally imported from Russia. As such one should think about what one does.”

Germany has also restarted two power plans that run on oil as the country tries to conserve natural gas as Russian gas flows to Europe continue to be restricted amid an ongoing gas turbine repair situation. Coal-fired plants in Germany have also been resurrected.

Austerity measures have been implemented, with Stadtwerke Munchen reducing swimming pool temperatures and shutting saunas until further notice.

Germany’s plan to phase out nuclear power generation spans decades and was hurried along by the Fukushima disaster.

For now, the German government has commissioned a stress test for nuclear plants, according to the WSJ, to determine if the life of the plants can be extended safely, and whether it will truly aid Germany with its tight energy situation.

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17 comments

  1. PlutoniumKun

    Keeping the nuclear plants open would make some contribution, but not all that much.. Germany’s coming winter energy crunch is in industrial energy, not electricity. Gas contributes around 13% of total electricity power, but its primarily as peaking energy, not base power. Germany’s big problem is not generating capacity, but its relatively poor internally linked grid – electricity is managed on a regional, not national basis.

    In reality keeping the big coal plants open makes more sense. Unlike nuclear plants, when they are mothballed they are maintained in sufficient condition to (with notice) operate during predicted power peaks.

    Incidentally, the whole idea that the big bad Greenies shut down nuclear in Germany is a complete myth. They have never had that sort of power. Germany was never convinced by nuclear power, mostly because their companies never bought into it – France led in Europe. Siemens was the first major company to bale on the EPR when they saw what a disaster it was going to be. Nuclear power was simply more expensive than the available options. It was German industry that bought big into gas in the 1980’s and onwards, nuclear was a casualty of that decision.

    Reply
    1. Colonel Smithers

      Thank you and well said, PK.

      My current and former employers trade with these regional providers, many of whom are local authority cooperatives. Even before this crisis, the arrangements seemed sub optimal, especially for a modern and industrial power, but the local authorities guard their power jealously.

      I don’t dispute what PK says about the Greens shutting down nuclear power. The Greens are not unhappy to be associated with it or exploit the confusion.

      The German industrial machine was creaking, along with its peers in the late 1970s an early 1980s, so relatively cheap and accessible Russian gas was a god send.

      At the same time as Thatcher destroyed the mining communities, she was happy to import coal from Jaruzelski’s Poland.

      Reply
      1. Solarjay

        But burning lignite coal vs non carbon nuclear is fricken nuts if you care about global warming reductions.

        Reply
          1. Colonel Smithers

            Thank you, Synoia.

            It’s been surreal to see the ghost of Thatcher resurrected in the Tory leadership campaign.

            No one under 50 has ever voted in an election that included Thatcher on the ballot, but her malign influence continues.

            Reply
      2. Revenant

        I seem to remember reading, quite possibly here, that the local mutual energy companies of Germany were the way forward to avoid rentier energy profits and underinvestment in renewables….

        I think that is probably still true. So if Germany needs nuclear, it would need to be a federal programme, rather than a privatisation and monopolization of the current producers.

        Reply
  2. tindrum

    This is handwaving from Scholz. There is enough opposition to nuclear to keep this stuck in the courts for a long time – no way this can be decided in the required time-frame of a few days or weeks. A major issue is the lack of a waste storage site “Endlager” and without this there is little chance of the courts re-starting the AKWs.

    Reply
  3. Colonel Smithers

    Thank you, Yves.

    Recently, I caught up with a journalist who covers, amongst other things, my former employer. He knows the favourite to be the next CEO, a young and not at all Atlanticist executive. I recounted the executive’s long held wish for the firm to pivot from the US, where it was not competitive and frequently fell foul of regulators, the media, people suffering from TDS and / or PDS etc., to growth markets in Asia. I suggested that, even anonymously, what the German business establishment really thinks is worth reporting. There’s no editorial and proprietorial, now in Tokyo, support to deviate from the US line and air alternative views at the pink un.

    Reply
  4. The Rev Kev

    I’d guess that the first thing that would have to happen is that the appropriate legislation be repealed as I think that Germany put it in legislation that those nuke plants had to be closed by 31st December of this year. Of course the German Greens would have to be onboard with this but I imagine that they would be given a choice – extend the life of those three remaining nuke plants (Isar 2, Emsland and Neckarwestheim 2) or open up Nord Stream 2. Doing nothing has them hanging from the Brandenburg Gate by January. I don’t think that they are importing any more Russian and Kazakh uranium anymore so whatever they have is all that they got. So that would mean that those plants would have to run in ‘stretch-out mode’ which means at a reduced capacity to make their remaining fuel last as long as possible. In other words, it is all about kicking the can down the road and waiting for a miracle to bail themselves out of the mess that they created. Sounds like a plan to me.

    Reply
  5. Louis Fyne

    I thought that the German plants have barely enough fuel rods to make it through the winter (as naturally no more fuel rods were requisitioned given the 2022 shutdown).

    Can’t go to Amazon and order fuel rods off-the-shelf….those need a long lead-time.

    And what about staffing? I was under the impression German nuclear workers were like COBOL programmers—ageing out with no younger replacements, particularly given Germany’s “apprentice-type” training system for technicians

    Reply
  6. nippersdad

    From what I have read of them, I reject the premise that the leadership of the Green party in Germany are Greens at all. Their actions would indicate that they are opportunistic neoliberal Atlanticists. If I were to do a calculation of what they are up to, I would leave off any idea that they are interested in the climate or environment and view them as having found a useful parade to parasitize.

    That said, they would have to get the fuel from somewhere, and if even we are buying it from the Russians then they are just setting themselves up for a second round of hand wringing over Russian resource inputs sooner rather than later.

    Environmentally, it would be far better for them to open up NS II. Preferably in September. I have a bet to win.

    Reply
    1. Alex Cox

      The German Greens ceased to be green when they started bombing Serbia. I cannot imagine what the party stands for today, besides wokeness and war to the last Ukranian.

      Reply
  7. Petter

    A couple of weeks ago I listened to a Sam Harris podcast with Peter Zehan and Ian Bremmer. Both are very hung ho the USA in the long term due to demographics but be that as it may what struck me was Bremmer’s comment on the German energy situation. He said that Germany’s investment in wind and solar was, on paper, enough to cover 200% of their electricity needs but in reality it was 9% because, da dum, lack of wind and sun. I have no idea if he is correct but here in Norway before the electricity crisis hit for real, we’d hear that prices were up because of little wind in Germany.

    Reply
  8. solarjay

    The best info I can find says that about 49% of the first 1/2 of 2022 was powered by renewables.
    From a Reuters business article.

    That is energy or kWh.

    I haven’t done the research to know what is the amount of watts of renewables. But is it 200% of max wattage requirements, doubt that.

    So overall the Sam Harris podcast was totally wrong

    Reply
    1. Revenant

      All of these analyses could be correct if your figures are for total energy and Petter’s figures are for electricity only. And the point us a valid one, in periods of prolonged high pressure in winter, the whole of Europe can be producing no wind power and minimal solar.

      Reply
  9. Irrational

    To complement the stats above:
    According to the German statistics agency (destatis.de), renewables were 47% in Q1 2022 up significantly from 40% in Q1 2021 and conventional sources dropping correspondingly.
    Nuclear has dropped from about 12% to 6% and since it is counted as conventional energy source that explains the shift. Within conventionals, a 2-3 percentage point drop in gas and corresponding increase in oil.
    RevKev is spot on in terms of the three still operating and the legal situation. Currently some sort of stress test is on-going and my understanding is that any decision on nuclear would only be made thereafter. Since the results of the test may not be available until weeks from now, that may effectively close off the option of extending the operations of those three reactors.

    Reply

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