Global Economics

Germany's Nuclear Debate


As Germany prepares to phase out nuclear plants and increase its reliance on coal-fired plants, conservatives are promoting nuclear as "clean energy"

Yet again, the issue of nuclear power has resulted in bickering within Germany's government in Berlin. Officially, the country is set to turn its back on nuclear power within 15 years. But Economics Minister Michael Glos wants the atomic phase-out to be phased out — a proposal that has infuriated the country's environment minister.

It's no secret that not everyone in Germany is happy with the country's plan to shut down the last of its nuclear reactors in a decade and a half. Rising energy prices and concerns about the CO2 emissions of coal-fired power plants have many, particularly on the right side of the political spectrum, pushing for the government to reverse a law passed in 2000 mandating the shut down of all nuclear power facilities by the beginning of the 2020s.

Now, talk of "phasing out the phase-out," as the German media is fond of calling it, seems to be getting more serious. According to news reports on Tuesday, an internal working group within the German Economics Ministry has circulated a paper recommending that the country's 17 remaining nuclear reactors remain in operation at least eight years longer than currently planned.

"Turning away from the nuclear power phase-out makes both ecological and economic sense and should be done," the paper reads, according to media reports.

Currently, the phase-out law — passed by former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's government pairing his center-left Social Democrats (SPD) with the Green Party — calls for reactors in Germany to be shut down after a life span of 32 years, meaning the final reactor would go off the grid in 2021. The current governing coalition, which pairs Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats with the SPD, agreed in its coalition contract not to revisit the law. Now, though, the Economics Ministry paper is calling for extending reactor life spans to "at least 40 years."

News of the paper immediately resulted in yet another clash within the cabinet in Berlin. Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel (SPD) went after Economics Minister Michael Glos — a member of the conservative Christian Social Union, the Bavarian sister party to Merkel's CDU — saying "this isn't just a clear violation of the coalition agreement, but it also shows that Glos' ministry is little more than an atomic energy lobby."

The Economics Ministry immediately fired back with a statement on its homepage. "Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel should cease lashing out at all those who scrutinize the future of the power supply and energy security," the statement, written by ministry deputy Peter Hintze, reads. "It is vital that an industrialized country with 82 million inhabitants not march blindly into the power supply abyss."

When Germany passed the phase-out law eight years ago, the plan was for renewable energies to develop to the point that they could take up the slack from atomic power. Great strides have been made, but it is likely that Germany will have to increase its reliance on coal-fired power plants in lieu of nuclear energy, thus emitting more CO2 into the atmosphere.

Many conservatives in Germany have begun promoting nuclear as a "clean energy," despite ongoing concerns about storing highly radioactive nuclear waste.

Provided by Spiegel Online—Read the latest from Europe's largest newsmagazine

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