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Clamour for German nuclear revival as policy “crumbles”

Germany could be eyeing a return of nuclear power just two years after it was phased out should early polling for the next general election prove correct, with one leading politician saying current energy policy is crumbling.

Polls indicate the centre-right Christian Democrats (CDU), which now supports a revival of the country’s nuclear power assets after signing a declaration in January, could garner around 30% of the votes in next year’s election, meaning the current opposition would likely spearhead any coalition.

After the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident, a CDU-led government championed the push to phase out the generation source, which accounted for nearly a third of Germany’s power at its height, in 1997.

Look again
“I am very aware that it gets harder every day to reverse our exit [from nuclear],” said party member and MEP Peter Liese at a recent energy conference.

“We need to seriously re-examine what is possible.”

His comments came in the light of the country’s looming exit from coal-fired generation in 2030 and recent warnings the lights could go out unless an additional 11 GW of gas-fired capacity was built to bridge the transition to renewables.

“A key aspect of our strategy crumbled,” CDU lawmaker Mark Helfrich told Montel, adding it was important to admit the party’s “basic assumptions” on nuclear had “fundamentally changed”.

Europe’s decision to limit Russian gas imports in response to the country’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 meant Germany had to turn to alternative origin, higher cost suppliers.

Nuclear proponents claimed that if the country had kept its nuclear fleet, it would still have clean, reliable power production, even though operators said the plants could no longer be revived.

Helfrich noted the high costs associated with a nuclear revival and the long lead times, conceding no new plants would be around until 2045 but stressed the need to hold onto nuclear expertise.

“Difficult situation”
“Some people want to put a lid on it and say this topic will never come back up. But a lot of people have noted that we’ve manoeuvred ourselves into a difficult situation with our energy transition.”

Scientific advances could make nuclear more viable, he said, with many pinning hopes on fusion reactor technology, which would create no nuclear waste, or on small modular reactors (SMRs).

Such developments could be vital, said industry experts, with power demand expected to jump from 517 TWh in 2023 to 750 TWh in 2030, according to official German forecasts.

That is far higher than what renewables would be able to provide, said backers of a nuclear revival.

The wrong route?
But Matthias Stark, of the BEE renewables lobby, said nuclear was the wrong way to go, adding biogas plants were already available for use as back-up power plants, while SMRs were far from being realised.

Additionally, a key European energy transition goal was less reliance on Russia but a nuclear return would run counter to this.

“Anyone who wants to build an SMR reactor today has to buy the highly enriched uranium from Russia,” said Stefan Wenzel, parliamentary state secretary in the German economy ministry and a member of the Green party.

“You make yourself 100% dependent on them.”

And Tim Hoefer, a consultant with Enervis, said nuclear did not factor into any of the German power market’s current designs.

“We advise a large number of companies on short and medium-term investment decisions in energy assets and on potential future developments in the energy market. Nuclear power plants do not play a role in this context.

“There is no interest in this topic in the energy industry,” he added.

Source: Montel