Germans want to continue operations of remaining NPPs
Germans want to continue operations of remaining NPPs
According to a new survey from Der Spiegel, three-quarters of all Germans want to continue the operations of Germany's remaining nuclear power plants, throwing into question the country's much-touted plan to phase out nuclear energy. Is the country about to make a U-turn on the issue?

TEHRAN (Iran News) –According to a new survey from Der Spiegel, three-quarters of all Germans want to continue the operations of Germany’s remaining nuclear power plants, throwing into question the country’s much-touted plan to phase out nuclear energy. Is the country about to make a U-turn on the issue?

Winter is coming, and Klaus Zilian is worried. He lives with his wife and two children in Neustadt, in the northwestern German state of Schleswig-Holstein, in the single-family home the couple bought 14 years ago – 160 square meters (1,500 square feet), seven rooms and insulating plaster the color of champagne. The electricity comes from the municipal utility company, the house is heated with gas, and the Baltic Sea is only a five-minute walk away. It’s typical middle-class prosperity.

The family will be able to handle the fact that the energy prices are going up due to the Russian reduction of the flows of natural gas into Germany, Zilian says. But what if the house suddenly gets cold because there’s just not enough gas? “I can already see us cuddling under blankets,” says Zilian, who heads a financial consultancy.

He has backed away from a formerly held conviction. “I was always in favor of the plan to phase out nuclear power,” the 54-year-old says of Germany’s plan to take all of its atomic energy plants offline by the end of this year. He says the situation changed because of the crisis with Russia. He says he supports keeping nuclear power plants online to prevent having to use natural gas to generate electricity. “We should use the existing nuclear power plants for as long as the crisis lasts,” he says.

It’s a typical scene from a country that is afraid, even amid the summer heat, of the coming winter and the threat of gas shortages. It’s a country eyeing its nuclear power plants, the few that are still operating and those that were just recently switched off, from a new perspective: Couldn’t they help now amid the potentially imminent emergency? In any case, many people no longer seem to see the cooling towers and their clouds of steam as a symbol of evil, but rather one of hope.

A poll commissioned by DER SPIEGEL has revealed some rather shocking numbers. According to the survey carried out by the online polling firm Civey, only 22 percent of those surveyed are in favor of shutting down the three nuclear plants that are still in operation in Germany as planned at the end of the year.

41 percent want to build new plants

Seventy-eight percent of those surveyed are in favor of continuing to operate the plants until the summer of 2023, a variant that is being discussed in the political sphere as a “stretch operation” – in other words, continuing to keep them online for a few months, but without the acquisition of new fuel rods. Even among Green Party supporters, a narrow majority favors this approach.

Is this the crisis talking? The answers suggest that the attitude of Germans toward nuclear power has changed significantly. Sixty-seven percent are in favor of continuing to operate the nuclear plants for the next five years, with only 27 percent opposed to it. The only group without a clear majority in favor of running the plants for the next five years are the supporters of the Green Party. Backers of the center-right Christian Democrats (CDU) and their Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), as well as those supporting the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) and the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) are over 80 percent in favor of having the nuclear plants running for that long.
On the question of whether Germany should build new nuclear power plants because of the energy crisis, 41 percent of respondents answered “yes,” meaning they favor an approach that isn’t even up for debate in Germany.

The results are astounding all around, especially compared with past surveys. Thirty-three years ago, a polling institute asked a similar question on behalf of DER SPIEGEL. At the time, only a miniscule 3 percent of respondents thought Germany should build new plants.

Questioning old certainties

Officially, Germany is supposed to be transitioning to green energies, but these polling figures suggest that people may be interested in returning to the old energy status quo.

But how is that even possible? It had already become clear in recent years that support for the nuclear phaseout was already slowly crumbling. The Russian war against Ukraine has now accelerated this shift, calling into question many old certainties, or overturning them completely. Formerly staunch pacifists now support weapons deliveries. A Green Party economics minister is going on a gas-shopping spree to Qatar. The energy security that people took for granted for decades in Germany has been shaken ever since Russia cut gas deliveries and costs rose.

The result being that an old German dogma now seems to be crumbling: the rejection of nuclear energy. Concerns are either being put on the backburner or are evaporating. Radiation from nuclear waste? Safety risks? Danger of large-scale disasters? Who cares. Those are things you worry about when you have working heat. Electricity first, then ethics.

However, some people believe nuclear power is both ecologically and morally sound.

Von Waitz, a long-time member of the CSU, noticed the signs of climate change in her environment, she became a pro-nuclear activist. She had done a lot of reading and was convinced by the arguments of those who say that nuclear power can protect the climate.

Ideologically Flexible
How should politicians respond to the resurrection of an issue that had long been consigned to the dustbin of history?
They become ideologically flexible. Driven by the fear of angry voters unsure about their energy supply, more and more decision-makers are showing themselves to be willing to make concessions. Even Chancellor Olaf Scholz said a few days ago that an extension of the lifespan of nuclear plants could “make sense” when he visited a Gazprom turbine intended for the Nord Stream I gas pipeline from Russia for a bizarre photo op and press event.
In political circles in Berlin, the nuclear debate is causing intrigue and increasing nervousness. Just a few weeks ago, Green Economics Minister Robert Habeck had a fairly relaxed approach to the nuclear question.

A movement has gone quiet
Since the Fukushima disaster in Japan and the 2011 decision to phase out nuclear power, the anti-nuclear movement, as much a part of German identity as Oktoberfest, has gone quiet.
The goal had been attained. Gone were the days when hundreds of police officers had to drag protesters from the train tracks so that the “Castor transports” of nuclear waste could pass. And few still take notice of the tractor protests in Gorleben, the site of a nuclear waste storage site, which actually do still take place.
How do the old enemies of nuclear power and the associated waste see their fellow Germans’ new fondness for nuclear power?

Will Berlin change nuclear phase-out law?
But can it really go on forever? Are extended operating spans or the recommissioning of nuclear reactors and the other scenarios even technically feasible? Can the phaseout even still be stopped at this point?
For one, continued operations would be illegal. Anyone who operates a nuclear power plant after Jan. 1, 2023, will be open to prosecution, because that’s when the “operational authorization” for the last three German nuclear power plants will expire. Neckarwestheim, Emsland and Isar 2 will have to be taken off the grid, regardless of the fact that each of them could produce up to 11 billion kilowatt hours of electricity per year in a pinch.

Uwe Stoll is the CEO of the German Corporation for Reactor Safety (GRS), a man with 35 years of experience in the nuclear sector. He doesn’t believe that the end of nuclear power in Germany is upon us. He predicts that as of Jan. 1, the number of operating nuclear plants in the country will be “greater than zero.”

Stoll believes that the German government will change the nuclear law to allow the continued availability of nuclear power. He says it would technically not be problematic to continue operating the three facilities over a long period. The best candidate for a comeback, he says, would be the Isar 2 plant near Landshut, in Bavaria, in part because of the state’s precarious energy situation, as the state doesn’t have any wind power or power lines from the north. Isar 2 is actually intended to be run at full power until the last day, after which the fuel rods will be exhausted, according to its operator, PreussenElektra.

But those fuel rods won’t be gone – a nuclear plant can produce electricity even with old elements. Although the output then decreases by up to 0.5 percent a day, it can remain productive for “80, 90, maybe 100 days,” according to Stoll.

If Berlin does decide to keep the nuclear power plants online, a second question will arise that is likely to hit the Greens especially hard: From the technical perspective, it would be hard to argue against putting the three power plants shut down in 2021 back online.

Although some power lines have been cut at Brokdorf, Grohnde, and Gundremmingen C, the actual dismantling process hasn’t properly begun. The spent fuel elements need to stay in the plants’ decay pools for at least five years to lose enough radioactivity and heat radiation. Even a decommissioned power plant needs to remain largely intact during this period to ensure key functions, like cooling. Stoll believes that each of these old nuclear power plants could be refurbished within six months.

A symbol of solidarity
The pressure to keep or reopen German nuclear plants isn’t just coming from within Germany but also increasingly from Europe, the European Union partners with whom Germany will have to jointly overcome the energy and Ukraine crises.

Many EU member states have not forgotten that the German government pushed through the construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia to the northern German state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania in the face of fierce opposition. It’s not only the Eastern Europeans who are irritated that Berlin is now calling for solidarity from all EU member states even as it refuses to compromise on nuclear energy.

Unlike in previous crises, Germany is now dependent on the support of its partners. Germany consumes more gas than any other EU country, and much of it comes from Russia. In Brussels last week, Slovakian Economics Minister Richard Sulik said that if Germany wants to save gas, it should “first keep three of its nuclear power plants running.”

The extension of the operations is becoming a symbol of German solidarity. For this reason alone, the German government can ill afford to shut them all down at the end of the year.

In the small town of Ahaus in North Rhine-Westphalia, near the Dutch border, 71-year-old Felix Ruwe is sitting in his backyard. Ruwe is a pensioner and deputy chairman of the No Nuclear Waste in Ahaus citizens’ initiative, which was founded 45 years ago and reached its heyday around 1998 and 2005, when the Castor transports with spent fuel rods arrived in Ahaus.

Ruwe has a degree in electrical engineering and talks like someone who does, with mention of ball fuel elements, moderator rods, and the differences between MTR2 and MTR3 castors. He knows what is stored in Ahaus (enriched uranium), the number of castor containers there (329), and how long the interim storage facility’s license will last (until 2036). Resistance against nuclear waste, which can pose a burden to future generations for thousands of years, is his life’s work.

When asked who is still involved in the citizens’ initiative these days, Ruwe says, “We have to admit that we’re all old farts now.” He says there’s no young new blood coming to continue the fight. “The resistance,” says his wife, Christel, “will die with us.”

  • source : Tehrantimes