German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has said he will extend the operation of Germany's last three nuclear power plants, in what's been described as a snub to the Greens in his coalition government.
Against the backdrop of an unprecedented energy crisis, the government had so far only agreed to keep two of the three power stations beyond the end of 2022, the date initially planned for a nuclear phase-out.
A letter from Scholz to the government asks the economy, environment and finance ministries to lay the legal framework to keep the country's three nuclear power plants — Isar 2, Neckarwestheim 2 and Emsland — operational until as late as 15 April 2023.
The Emsland plant, in the north of the country, was at the heart of a tug of war within the ruling coalition of Social Democrats, Greens and Liberals, which was torn over the solutions to be found to the energy crisis caused by the war in Ukraine.
The chancellor finally moved on Monday as Europe's largest economy urgently tries to reduce its dependence on Russian energy imports, especially gas. Nuclear power currently produces 6% of Germany's net electricity.
Justice Minister Marco Buschmann and Finance Minister Christian Lindner of the centrist Free Democratic Party (FDP) welcomed Scholz's decision on Twitter as "common sense" and in the country's "vital interest".
But the decision is a further blow to Germany's economy minister, the Green Robert Habeck, whose friction with Lindner is becoming increasingly apparent.
The Bild tabloid said Scholz's decision was a "slap in the face" for Habeck, though Environment Minister Steffi Lemke — also from the Greens — said it was a mere setback to the nuclear phase-out. She tweeted to say there would be no "life extension" of the plants beyond mid-April.
Greenpeace called Scholz's decision "irresponsible". "The extension of the life of nuclear power plants exposes us all to an unjustifiable risk," said Greenpeace Germany executive director Martin Kaiser.
Initially, Germany, where a large part of the population is hostile to nuclear energy, planned to close its last three operating nuclear reactors at the end of 2022.
But Olaf Scholz's government reversed this decision after the Russian invasion of Ukraine and decided in September to extend two of the three remaining plants until spring 2023, blaming France for its poor power grid.
Twenty of the 56 reactors in France are out of action due to maintenance or corrosion problems. French state energy firm EDF has promised to restart them gradually by February 2023.
The German Liberals would like to go further than the spring of 2023 and keep the three plants in operation longer, while the Greens are historically deeply anti-nuclear.
Faced with the threat of an energy shortage this winter, the German government has already decided to increase its use of coal. The operation of several coal-fired power stations is being extended until spring 2024, even though it has set itself the target of abandoning coal use by 2030.
Swedish activist Greta Thunberg said in a recent interview on German television that it would be better to continue using Germany's existing nuclear power plants than to switch to coal.
The timetable for phasing out nuclear power was decided by Angela Merkel after the Fukushima disaster in Japan in 2011.