Germany will “probably” keep two nuclear power plants connected to the grid in the first quarter of 2023, Economics Minster Robert Habeck said on Tuesday, citing capacity problems among France’s troubled nuclear reactors and the tense situation on the electricity market.
He called it a “necessary” measure, saying that talks with the operators of the Isar 2 and Neckarwestheim plants in southern Germany have been completed and the key issues noted.
Germany had been set to shutter the last of its three nuclear plants at the end of year, but the war in Ukraine led to fears the country would need all available sources of energy to get through the winter.
So in a major U-turn for the centre-left government, Habeck unveiled plans earlier this month to keep two of the three plants on a sort of backup status through April in case they were needed.
A set of feasibility questions were then raised from the operators, which Habeck said had now been largely resolved.
But the decision also triggered contentious debate within the ruling coalition, with nuclear opponents saying the plants must be turned off as planned and proponents arguing for their operational lifespans to be extended for several more years.
Habeck essentially confirmed the standby plan on Tuesday but said that a final decision on the continued operation of the two plants has not yet been made. It must be taken in conjunction with the operators “in December at the latest,” he said.
In his first announcement on the scheme in early September, Habeck justified the controversial move by saying it would help stabilize the electricity grid in southern Germany this winter.
New grounds were given on Tuesday when he blamed the electricity situation in neighbouring France.
More than half of the nuclear power plants there are currently not connected to the grid. This has led to a shortage of electricity, which Germany helps compensate for in part with electricity from gas-fired power plants. These circumstances had the potential to put a strain on German supplies this winter, Habeck said.
“If this development is not reversed, we will leave Isar 2 and Neckarwestheim on the grid in the first quarter of 2023,” Habeck said.
A third active nuclear power plant in the northern state of Lower Saxony is not part of this standby plan and is to be shut down by the end of the year.
It became known last week that Isar 2, located in Bavaria, will be temporarily inactive in October for repairs on a worn valve.