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German coalition remains divided over nuclear power despite the Green Party’s acceptance of a limited extension


German coalition government members continue to argue over whether or not to postpone the country’s nuclear phase-out. A conference between Social Democratic (SPD) Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Green Party Economy and Climate Minister Robert Habeck, and Free Democratic (FDP) Finance Minister Christian Lindner failed to produce a compromise on the contentious issue of nuclear power. Scholz reportedly hopes to make a decision by Tuesday, and the newspaper Bild reports that talks among the senior party members will continue this week. The Greens, who want to rigorously limit the duration extension to two plants until next spring, are at odds with the Free Democrats, who argue that all three surviving plants need a lengthier postponement of the phase-out, until at least 2024. But the SPD avoids taking a stand on the issue. The “real conditions” under which Chancellor Scholz’s proposed limited extension would take place are being evaluated. He also said the matter would be settled soon.

In preparation for the forthcoming winter, Minister Habeck requested a limited extension for two remaining facilities, Neckarwestheim 2 and Isar 2, in southern Germany as a backup alternative for the electricity grid. The Green Party endorsed this recommendation during their party convention this past weekend. The party believes the Emsland station in northern Germany should close as planned at the end of this year and has opposed the procurement of new nuclear fuel rods needed to extend operations through April 2023. Ricarda Lang, a co-leader of the Green Party, recently informed the German news magazine Der Spiegel that the purchase of new fuel rods would be a “red line” for her organization. Long-term expenditures in nuclear power would be required if new fuel rods were purchased at this time. That’s not how we should proceed,” Lang added. Christian Lindner, head of the Free Democratic Party, has been advocating for a radical shift in Germany’s nuclear strategy since July. In an interview, he said, “I have no red lines when it comes to protecting our country, lowering crippling energy prices, and preventing blackouts.” The pro-business FDP has been under pressure to demonstrate its ability to influence government policy because it has been slowly loosing support in polls over the past few months and was ultimately defeated in the first significant state election held since the energy crisis started to affect business potential and household finances in early October.

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Extending the life of the remaining facilities past April would not only require the purchase of more fuel rods, but would also further skew the operators’ long-standing phase-out plans, including preparations for decommissioning and disassembly and postponed retirements for personnel. New safety inspections and operation permits would be required for the remaining reactors that were supposed to shut down on December 31. Since roughly half of France’s reactor capacity has been down for maintenance over the past few months, the German government claims that the likelihood that Germany’s nuclear facilities will be called upon to stabilize the wider European grid this winter is high.

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