Climate activist Greta Thunberg has criticised the German government over its decision to shut down existing nuclear power plants while ramping up coal usage to tackle the energy crisis.
In an interview clip shared online, the Swedish campaigner argued turning off the nuclear power stations was a “bad idea” if it meant switching to coal. Thunberg was then asked if nuclear was preferable for the climate: “It depends. If they are already running, I think it would be a mistake to shut them down and turn to coal.”
Thunberg’s statement follows the announcement that Germany has been forced to restart old coal plants after Russia cut off its energy supplies to the country in the wake of its invasion of Ukraine.
It is also paying the operators of closed brown coal plants up to €450 million to ready the plants for operation in case of emergencies this winter. But the government continues to insist that it will end coal use by 2030.
As well as restarting coal plants the government is extending the lifetime of two nuclear plants beyond their planned shutdown at the end of the year, but only until April 2023. However, this has led to a split within Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s coalition.
Economy Minister Robert Habeck of the Greens has come under pressure over his nuclear policy, with some ecologists criticising him for failing to keep to the planned atomic phase-out.
The public discourse over extending the reactors, even for a few months, has been far more controversial than rebooting highly polluting coal plants. Thunberg’s comments were immediately picked up on by pro-nuclear politicians, even within the ruling coalition.
Finance Minister Christian Lindner, who is from the liberal Free Democratic Party, said he welcomed Thunberg’s “encouragement, in this energy war, everything that creates electricity capacity has to be connected to the grid. The reasons speak for themselves — economically and physically.”
Nuclear power is a controversial issue in Germany’s political landscape. Former chancellor Angela Merkel had pushed through Germany’s nuclear exit in the wake of Japan’s Fukushima disaster. The ecologist Greens had lent strong support then to the move, having roots in Germany’s anti-nuclear movement.
Former Greens chair Simone Peter, who now works for the German Renewable Energy Federation, said Thunberg’s comments didn’t “make any sense” because the nuclear plants were no longer useful and used Russian uranium.”
“Of course, this is a very heated debate,” Thunberg said.
In August, the UK closed down one of its most productive and remaining few nuclear power plants, which contributed about 3% of the UK’s total yearly power needs. However, in response to the ongoing energy crisis, Energy producer and French state-owned EDF, has announced it will explore if there is a case to extend the lives of two other plants which both scheduled to close in March 2024.
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