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Scholz says nuclear energy issue 'a dead horse' for Germany

September 2, 2023

The German chancellor insisted that "nuclear energy is over" after the Free Democrats (FDP) called for putting a halt on dismantling decommissioned power plants. It's the latest apparent division in the ruling coalition.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz
Scholz said he is against a new nuclear power debateImage: Jens Krick/Flashpic/picture alliance

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has dismissed calls by his coalition partner, the business-friendly Free Democrats (FDP), to consider the option of using nuclear energy again.

Germany ended operations at its last three nuclear power plants on April 15 this year.

But earlier this week, the FDP's parliamentary group approved a policy statement calling on Germany "to stop the dismantling of the nuclear power plants that are still fit to use" as part of efforts to be prepared for worst-case scenarios.

"That is the only way we will remain capable of acting in every situation," it said. 

Is shutting down nuclear energy a mistake?


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What did Scholz say?

In an interview released with German broadcaster Deutschlandfunk released on Saturday, Scholz declared the issue "a dead horse."

He also insisted that any suggestion to resume the use of nuclear energy would imply building new stations.

"Nuclear energy is over," he said. "The issue of nuclear energy in Germany is a dead horse. Anyone who wanted to build new nuclear power plants would need 15 years and would have to spend €15-20 billion ($16.2-21.6 billion) each."

The chancellor went on to assure that it was not an issue where he had to throw in political weight. "The phaseout has been done by law... I don't need to put my foot down at all," Scholz told Deutschlandfunk. 

Why does the FDP want nuclear energy?

The FDP's push is driven by rising electricity costs, with the party being against state-subsidized industrial electricity prices that Scholz's center-left Social Democrats (SPD) and the third coalition partner, the Greens, are seeking.

The gradual phaseout of nuclear energy in Germany was initially an SPD policy, implemented during their first ever federal coalition with the Green Party after 1998's election. The conservative CDU and FDP later briefly overturned this decision, following their win in the 2009 elections, but then-Chancellor Angela Merkel u-turned and reinstated the phaseout in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster in 2011.

But the issue has grown to be more divisive in light of Russia's war in Ukraine and the subsequent energy crunch, as well as increasing pressure to reduce carbon emissions in light of climate change. 

The CDU/CSU, now in opposition, also advocate a limited nuclear restart in the meantime, despite having led the last government to issue a shutdown order. Bavarian state premier Markus Söder said last month that he could imagine Germany restarting nuclear plants one day, and said that if energy prices were still strained, his party would consider action as soon as 2025, if they win the next federal election. 

Scholz's latest remarks came after the ruling coalition sought to project unity during a two-day retreat outside Berlin earlier this week, following semi-public friction between the SPD, the FDP and the Greens on different issues.

fb/msh (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters) 

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