Greta Thunberg calls German nuclear exit a mistake

Swedish activist says atomic plants are preferable to burning coal

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, in June 2022. AFP
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Greta Thunberg has caused a stir in Germany by calling its plan to scrap nuclear power a mistake.

The climate activist said existing nuclear plants should not be closed if that means burning more coal, wading into a sensitive debate as the December 31 deadline for Germany’s last three reactors to close approaches.

Ministers have said two of the three could be kept in reserve until the spring because of Europe’s energy crunch.

But the opposition, and some voices within Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s coalition, want nuclear plants to stay online until at least 2024.

Ms Thunberg’s comments won her some unlikely allies on the German right, including Christian Democrat (CDU) leader Friedrich Merz.

Asked how often he agreed with Ms Thunberg, he said: “Not very much, but happily in this case.”

The Swedish activist made her remarks in an interview with broadcaster ARD, to be shown in full on Wednesday evening.

“Personally, I think that it’s a very bad idea to focus on coal when this is already in place,” Ms Thunberg said of the nuclear plants.

“If we have them already running, I feel that it’s a mistake to close them down in order to focus on coal.”

Some of Germany’s condemned coal plants have been brought back online to ease the energy crisis.

Although Ms Thunberg sees coal as a greater evil than nuclear, scrapping atomic energy is a long-cherished goal of German environmentalists.

The issue has split Mr Scholz’s coalition, with Green party ministers determined to see the nuclear exit through while liberals call for an extension.

A former leader of the Greens, Simone Peter, said Ms Thunberg was wrong on the nuclear issue.

Keeping the German plants online “makes no sense, dear Greta” because their uranium comes from Russia and the switch-off process is already under way, she said.

Christian Lindner, Germany’s finance minister and the liberal leader in the coalition, said he welcomed Ms Thunberg’s intervention.

“In this energy war, everything that can produce electricity has to go online,” said Mr Lindner.

The Isar 2 nuclear power plant is one of two that could be kept online beyond a December 31 deadline. AP

But Mr Lindner's hopes of forcing a rethink on nuclear were damaged when his party was badly beaten in a regional election on Sunday.

The likelihood of a short-term extension was increased by maintenance problems with nuclear plants in neighbouring France.

French forecasts shared with Berlin suggest nuclear generation could be as much as 20 per cent lower than hoped this winter.

Unless imports from France increase, the two reserve plants will probably have to be used in the first quarter of 2023, Germany has said.

A coalition of Social Democrats and Greens under former chancellor Gerhard Schroeder passed a law banning new nuclear plants in 2002.

His successor Angela Merkel initially sought to delay the closure of nuclear plants, but changed her mind after the 2011 Fukushima disaster and ordered them all to be closed by the end of 2022.

Updated: October 12, 2022, 12:49 PM