The demand is older than the current nuclear phase-out. Problems with Russian gas? The running times of nuclear power plants must be extended! That was what the then Federal Minister of Economics, Michael Glos, called for from the CSU. The gas dispute between Russia and Ukraine must have made it clear to everyone "that we cannot afford to do without an energy source." That was in January 2009.
Since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the debate has not only been held every winter, but almost monthly. The most recent started with a quote from Federal Finance Minister Christian Lindner in the "Bild" newspaper. An overview.
"People expect that all options will be considered because of climate protection, dependence on Putin and inflation," the FDP chairman is quoted as saying. From an economic point of view, he is not yet convinced that new investments in nuclear power really pay off. "But Germany must not close its eyes to a debate that is being conducted all over the world. I advise presenting the arguments on the table without prejudice."
Lindner made a similar statement on Tuesday on Sandra Maischberger's talk show - not of his own accord, but when asked and only towards the end of the interview. He is open to a debate about extending the terms, "because we have to talk about energy supply issues in a non-ideological manner." It's about affordability and saving CO2 emissions. "We have safe nuclear power plants. However, it is a debate that cannot be taken too lightly. After all, where does the fuel for the nuclear power plants come from, and from which regions of the world?" They are not unproblematic. Nuclear power is "not a panacea, but freedom from ideology is certainly necessary".
The head of the FDP has not called for extending the lifespan of German nuclear power plants, nor has he called for a return to nuclear power. It can be assumed that Lindner knows that the discussion about returning to nuclear power in Germany is primarily a fake debate. A number of older quotations from him speak for this.
In March 2011, after the then black and yellow federal government had overturned its just a few months old decision to extend the lifespan of German nuclear power plants and was preparing to decide on a nuclear phase-out, Lindner, then FDP General Secretary, called for particularly quick action. "We want and will have to tackle the energy turnaround more vigorously now."
He has not campaigned for a return since then. At a party conference of the FDP in April 2019, Lindner said on the subject of nuclear power, "I think the fair has been read". At the Epiphany meeting in early 2022, he also rejected a resumption of nuclear energy in Germany. One shouldn't forget that "nuclear energy may be CO2-free, but it is anything but sustainable". For Germany, "nuclear energy is not an option anyway."
Since the turn of the year, only three nuclear power plants have been connected to the grid in Germany: Isar 2 (PreussenElektra), Emsland (RWE) and Neckarwestheim 2 (EnBW). They should also be switched off by the end of the year. After the Russian attack on the Ukraine, the Federal Ministry of Economics and the Environment Ministry examined and rejected an extension of the service life.
Reluctant to annoyed. Regarding the current debate, a spokesman for RWE AG told the "Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung" that continued operation beyond December 31, 2022 "would be associated with high hurdles of a technical and legal nature". And he pointed out that the federal government and energy ministers of the federal states had declared in March that extending the service life was not an option "to increase security of supply and reduce dependence on gas supplies from Russia".
When asked by Bayerischer Rundfunk, PreussenElektra informed Bayerischer Rundfunk that it did not want to comment further on the "always new proposals on this topic". The continued operation of Isar 2 is possible under certain conditions, but this requires sufficient advance notice. In March, the company pointed out that the delivery of new fuel rods would take time: "According to an initial estimate, we assume that fresh fuel elements could be available in a good 1.5 years."
The one and a half years mentioned by PreussenElektra describe the problem: Nothing works in the short term, especially since the fuel elements in the three plants that are still running are "largely used up" according to the Federal Ministry of Economics.
According to the Association of German Engineers, extending the operation of the three nuclear power plants would pose a challenge. Among other things, the VDI cites organizational and personnel-related reasons: it normally takes 18 to 36 months to procure and plan the use of fuel elements. In addition, staff have already been reduced through early retirement and partial retirement, so that it is unclear “to what extent and by when contractual changes or staff transfers from other plants, including necessary training and/or further training, are possible”. And of course the Bundestag would have to change the Atomic Energy Act for a lifetime extension. There hasn't been a political majority for this for years.
According to the Federal Environment Agency, the share of nuclear energy in primary energy consumption in Germany fell from 12.2 percent in 2005 to 5.9 percent in 2020. In contrast, the share of renewables rose from 5.3 percent to 16.5 percent in the same period. The primary energy consumption, which is understood as the energy content of all energy sources used in Germany, has remained at a relatively high level for gas for years. In 2020 it was 26.5 percent.
This is a point on the subject of nuclear power that Lindner drew attention to at Maischberger, but which usually falls by the wayside: around 40 percent of European uranium imports come from Russia and its ally Kazakhstan, and another 20 percent come from Niger in Africa. The German dependence on Russian uranium is probably even greater: "In the last few years of operation of our power plants, we obtained the uranium required for the fuel elements from Kazakhstan and Russia and in small quantities from Canada," said a PreussenElektra spokeswoman in March.
Certainly not in the short term. "You would have to stop using the nuclear power plants today so that we have a few more kilowatt hours next winter," says Mycle Schneider, editor of the "World Nuclear Industry Status Report" (WNISR), in an interview with ntv.de. "More is not possible because there is no nuclear fuel."
A look at France helps. The country has 56 reactors in 18 nuclear power plants. However, more than half of the reactor capacity is regularly unavailable. This is due to the age of the systems, the lack of spare parts, safety requirements - ultimately the money. Because the costs of nuclear power are enormous: the construction alone costs billions, the reactors can only be insured because the liability of the insurance companies is artificially capped - in the event of an accident, the state steps in, which also bears the largest share of the costs for transport, interim storage and Repository search denies. Lindner is absolutely right. At the Epiphany meeting, he said: "An energy source that can only be established if the state assumes liability already shows in market terms that it cannot be a sustainable, responsible energy source."
This is repeatedly claimed, but it is not so. Most of the time, these are announcements that are not implemented or are implemented with a long delay. "What we currently have is basically a situation of technology geriatrics," says Schneider. "There's a lot of money going into life extensions, but it's not sustainable. Basically, you're just delaying the end of this technology."