Germany delays exit from nuclear power to offset energy shortfall

Germany’s planned exit from nuclear power by the end of this year has been officially delayed in order to shore up energy supplies during an expected shortfall this winter, the economic minister, Robert Habeck, announced on Tuesday.

The decision follows a shortage in supplies of electricity coming from France due to the fact that more than half of its nuclear power stations are offline, Habeck told journalists in Berlin.

He said that the resulting gap in electricity supplies was being “observed with concern”, with Europe’s energy network in danger of being put under too much strain, potentially leading to power cuts. The electricity that Germany is not able to acquire from France is being compensated for with electricity produced by gas-fired power stations in Germany. But this in turn involves using up valuable supplies of gas that Germany is trying to save before winter arrives.

Germany’s three remaining nuclear power stations were due to be turned off at the end of this year, the end of an 11-year process. The decision to withdraw from nuclear power was made by the government of Angela Merkel after the 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan.

Habeck had long resisted calls for the power plants in southern Germany – Isar 2 and Neckarwestheim 2 – to be extended as Germany coped with the effect of Russia slowing down, and then turning off completely, its gas supply via the Baltic Sea pipeline Nord Stream 1 earlier this month. But his arguments against keeping the plants in operation became increasingly difficult to defend. A majority of Germans, despite being in favour of moving away from nuclear power, has said it is in favour of extending the plants’ use temporarily.

Habeck had announced earlier this month that the plants would be put into a standby mode but would effectively stay offline unless needed.

His decision amounts to an awkward U-turn, though Habeck said it was a reaction to the current situation, including to what he called an escalation of the situation in Russia, “which is developing fairly dramatically”, and that he was resistant to populist demands.

Habeck said that the necessary changes to the law covering the extension of the plants would be voted on in the Bundestag at the end of next month.

Reacting to security concerns, and whether nuclear plants may be open to hacking attacks and terrorist threats, Habeck said the government was well aware of the concerns and was “doing its utmost” to secure them.

German and Danish authorities were examining evidence on Tuesday suggesting that the Nord Stream pipelines 1 and 2 may have been deliberately damaged on Monday night in an act of sabotage, after dramatic drops of pressure in them and evidence of gas leaking into the Baltic Sea with possible explosions. Fingers have inevitably been pointed at Russia as a possible culprit. The incident has heightened concerns over the vulnerability of energy infrastructure in Europe.