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Gas crisis spurs Germany to mull extending life of nuclear plants

file photo: a general view of the nuclear power plant in gundremmingen
A general view of the nuclear power plant, whose last unit will be shut down at the turn of the year, in Gundremmingen, Germany, December 29, 2021. REUTERS/Lukas Barth/File Photo

Germany may extend the life of its three remaining nuclear power plants, the economy ministry said on Monday, as public support rises in the face of a possible cut-off of Russian gas.

Germany’s remaining nuclear plants are scheduled to be shut down by year-end after former Chancellor Angela Merkel pledged to phase out nuclear power following the meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan in 2011.

The three plants made up 6% of Germany’s power production in the first quarter of 2022.

A first assessment by the environment and economy ministries in March did not recommend extending the plants’ lifetime, citing legal, licensing and insurance challenges, the need for extensive and possibly costly safety checks, and a lack of fuel rods to keep the plants running.

But falling Russian gas supplies to Germany through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline have emboldened pro-nuclear voices in Germany and Europe ahead of a feared electricity crunch this winter.

The ministry said power grid operators had requested a second assessment of the viability of nuclear power.

“We will now calculate again and then make a decision on the basis of clear facts,” a ministry spokesperson said, adding the results of the new evaluation were expected in a few weeks.

Members of the conservative CDU/CSU opposition bloc have blamed the Green party, which runs the economy ministry, for the government’s resistance to changing tack on the issue, saying this was purely ideological.

But deputy government spokesperson Christiane Hoffmann said the question of extending the terms was a technical one for the government, not an ideological one.

The new assessment will consider the potential impact of higher gas prices on electricity prices, more serious gas supply outages and a halt in French nuclear power plants production, an economy ministry document seen by Reuters showed.

The stress test will also consider the special situation in southern Germany and in the state of Bavaria, where Isar II nuclear power plant is due to be shut at the end of the year.

The state depends on gas-fired power plants and has few coal-fired plants and low wind power production, it added.

Bavaria’s Economy Minister Hubert Aiwanger on Sunday urged the federal government to extend the lifetime of the nuclear power plants.

“When the Greens say that nuclear power cannot be used to heat an apartment or that we do not have an electricity problem, but a gas problem, then that is complete nonsense,” Aiwanger told the Augsburger Allgemeine newspaper.

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