The German Parliament has voted to keep its three remaining nuclear plants open as it scrambles to break free from Russian President Vladimir Putin’s tight grip on European energy supplies. The plants were scheduled to shut down later this year due to Germany’s previously tough anti-nuclear stance, but amid fears that Putin will curtail more gas deliveries to Europe, Berlin has been forced to delay its phasing out of the energy source.
The temporarily move will let the Isar 2, Neckarwestheim 2 and Emsland kilns keep running until April 15 next year following the vote passed in the Bundestag. 375 MPs voted in favor of amending the Atomic Energy Act, 216 voted against and 70 abstained out of a total 661 votes cast.
The SPD MP Carsten Träger said with a view to April 15: “On this day I will hug my children and my wife and toast them with a glass of champagne.”
But Germany, which is normally hugely reliant on Russian gas to power its economy and households across the country, had also been preparing for the event which Putin attempts to “freeze” Europe by cutting off its supplies, a threat which came after the EU mulled over price caps on Russian fuel, by building up its gas storage levels.
The nation reportedly filled its storage facilities to 90 percent of their capacity to swerve the impacts if a supply cut, with German Economy Minister Robert Habeck claiming Germany has a good chance of getting through the winter “comfortably” even in the absence of Russian supplies.
However, most voters in the Bundestag are not as confident and clearly believe as many energy sources are needed to avoid a severe energy crunch in the coldest winter months.
The vote comes after Chancellor Olaf Scholz ordered the plants to be kept open until mid-April, against the wishes of the Greens in his coalition Government but supported by the liberal Free Democrats (FDP), which has been pushing to allow the nuclear reactors to keep on running until 2024.
The Greens had agreed to keep two nuclear power plants in southern Germany in reserve until April, but it wanted the reactor shut down by end of the year.
Finance Minister Christian Lindner of the FDP tweeted Monday: “It is in the vital interest of our country and its economy that we maintain all our energy production capacities this winter. The chancellor has now created clarity.”
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The three plants that are set to stay open for the time being have 4,300 megawatts (MW) of power capacity, contributing six percent to Germany’s electricity production this year.
Chancellor Scholz wrote a letter to finance ministries back in October asking them to lay the legal framework to keep the country’s three nuclear power plants operational until as late as April 15, 2023.
He wrote: “I would ask that the relevant proposed regulations be presented to the cabinet as soon as possible as part of the distribution of responsibilities.”
RWE, which operates the Emsland power plant, has also welcomed the decision, saying it created clarity and planning security.
A company spokesperson said: “We will now immediately make all the necessary preparations to enable power operation of the Emsland power plant until April 15th.”