Monday, June 20, 2022
On March 30, the German Council of Economic Experts, a group of five leading economists who evaluate German government policy, made a recommendation that broke a long-standing cultural and political taboo. To confront the looming energy crisis linked to Russia’s war in Ukraine, the economists wrote, Germany should consider delaying the phaseout of its three remaining nuclear power plants, slated for the end of this year.
The country is heavily dependent on imports of Russian natural gas, and most experts agree it is only a matter of time before Germans—whether through their own political will or that of Russian President Vladimir Putin—are cut off for good. The European Union has already finalized plans to embargo most imports of Russian coal and oil, which make up a much smaller—but still significant—share of Germany’s energy mix. Though gas remains the last unsanctioned holdout, Putin in May cut 3 percent of his country’s gas exports to Germany in what was largely seen as a power move. They were reduced further last week.
Officials in Berlin are scrambling to concoct an emergency plan should Moscow turn off all the taps. Policy responses have ranged from pleading with the general public to curb private energy consumption to courting Qatar for exports of liquefied natural gas (LNG). But one idea that has so far eluded any official government endorsement is to use Germany’s existing nuclear power infrastructure to stave off an energy shortage.
Though the proposal may seem obvious—the power plants are quite literally in plain sight—Germany’s deep-rooted anti-nuclear orthodoxy has rendered such suggestions political heresy. This is why it was so revealing to hear the country’s most prestigious economic body—whose economists are sometimes referred to as the “