German economic and environment ministries, held by the Greens, have been accused of mishandling the shutdown of the country’s last three nuclear power plants during the 2022 energy crisis.
German Green’s minister Robert Habeck under fire over 2022 nuclear shutdown

On Friday morning (26 April), German Federal Minister for Economic Affairs and Climate Action, Robert Habeck, was scheduled to brief journalists on how far the green transition – the Energiewende – had progressed. Instead, he was ordered to the Bundestag’s energy committee at 8 am to justify his most controversial policy: the country’s continued exit from nuclear power during the 2022 energy crisis.

Following a lawsuit by the monthly political magazine Cicero, documents have come to light that implicate the two German Green-run ministries, for putting aside expert opinion while concluding the 2022 nuclear exit.

Three policy options were being considered by the German government, during the week after Russia attacked Ukraine, as there were fears over gas supplies.

They were either to stretch out the use of the existing nuclear fuel over a few more months, buy new fuel elements for the remaining three nuclear power stations – or reopen the three plants shut down on 1 January 2022.

For the Greens, the prospect of restarting nuclear power stations proved highly controversial.

Habeck’s ministry hoped to “pull the plug on the debate” on 6 March 2022, according to internal emails cited by Cicero on Thursday (25 April).

In a briefing document released to the public on 8 March 2022, the two ministries highlighted the environmental and legal risks associated with nuclear power, concluding that an operating extension is not advisable.

This assessment was based on a key internal document, reviewed by Euractiv. The initial 1 March 2022 assessment found that extending the lifetime of nuclear power plants was a feasible policy option. However, this assessment was altered by a high-level official in the environment ministry on 3 March 2022 to conclude that lifetime extension was unfeasible, citing “reasons of nuclear safety”.

The environment ministry stresses that the 1 March document was provisional, while the 3 March document took into account additional information, including “legal considerations”. 

“It is the task of the department management to summarise this assessment and to comprehensively communicate and evaluate the technical and legal safety aspects to the house management,” a spokesperson explained.

Habeck reiterated the sentiment: “It is untrue that reports are changed into the opposite,” he said on Friday morning.

After meeting lawmakers, he told reporters he had been able to demonstrate that “the story that the files tell is different from the one that was spread by the media.”

His economics ministry was similarly implicated in the affair, after Habeck’s deputy, Patrick Graichen, failed to inform the minister of an expert assessment in favour of keeping nuclear power plants online, according to the Cicero report.

Running them for an extra three months – by reducing fuel burn in summer – could have helped prevent a gas supply crisis and keep power prices low, the cited expert assessment found.

This approach was ultimately the compromise reached by the government in October 2022, at the insistence of liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP) politicians. Today, all six nuclear power plants are offline and in the process of being decommissioned – although the centre-right CDU is considering restarting them.

The nuclear files

Cicero’s “nuclear files” have sparked widespread outrage among liberal and centre-right politicians, who have embraced nuclear power in the 2020s.

“At least one thing is certain: there was never an open-ended examination,” said Bavarian centre-right lawmaker Andreas Lenz on X, adding that the change in the assessment meant one of two things: Habeck had lost his grip on his ministry or “he lied to the public.” 

While the FDP called on Friday for full transparency to be created, “in any case, the process shows how important it was that the FDP was able to push through the extension of the lifetimes beyond the winter of 2022/23,” liberal member of the Bundestag, Olaf in der Beek said in a statement.

FDP lawmaker Lukas Köhler stressed, that “if the allegations are substantiated, there must be consequences.”



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