September 24, 2022


BERLIN — German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said for the first time that his government could delay the planned shutdown of its remaining nuclear reactors as he criticized Russia’s decision to curb natural gas flows to Germany – a move that could deal a serious blow to Europe’s largest Europe. economy.

Last month, Russia shut down the giant Nord Stream pipeline, which connects Russia and Germany under the Baltic Sea and is operated by Russian state energy company Gazprom PJSC, for maintenance.

After the maintenance ended, Gazprom restored the flow, but only to 40% of the pipeline’s capacity. It has since reduced that to 20%, saying it could not maintain normal flow without a turbine that had undergone maintenance in Canada. On Wednesday, Mr Scholz rejected that explanation, saying Russia had refused to hand over the turbine.

A looming gas shortage has forced the government to trigger emergency measures, raising the specter of gas rationing over the winter that could force factories to close and push Europe’s biggest economy into recession.

On Tuesday, the chancellor broke with long-standing policy and said for the first time that it “could make sense” to keep Germany’s last three nuclear reactors online. They are due to close in December as part of the country’s transition to renewable energy.

Germany decided to phase out nuclear power two decades ago, a plan that was greatly accelerated by former Chancellor Angela Merkel after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear plant disaster.

Western leaders are bracing for the possibility that Russian gas flows through the key Nord Stream pipeline may never return to full levels. The WSJ’s Shelby Holliday explains what an energy crisis could look like in Europe and how it could ripple across the world. Illustration by David Fang

The three remaining reactors produce 6% of Germany’s electricity. Plans to replace them with natural gas have been upset by the economic war with Russia, Germany’s main energy supplier.

Mr Scholz’s government commissioned a stress test for nuclear plants to see whether their operations could be safely expanded and whether it would help Germany’s energy supply. A final decision on whether to extend their lives will be made once the study is completed, which could be in the next few days, the chancellor said on Wednesday.

Germany has already been forced to reopen coal plants, which are highly polluting and run counter to climate policy goals, to avoid blackouts if Russia cuts gas supplies.

On Wednesday, Mr Scholz held a press conference in front of the gas turbine, which is now at the manufacturer Siemens Energy‘small

German plant. He said the turbine is ready to be shipped to Russia, but Gazprom was refusing to accept it.

“Nothing, absolutely nothing stands in the way of bringing this turbine to Russia,” Mr Scholz said. “The reduction in the flow of natural gas through the Nord Stream pipeline has nothing to do with this turbine.”

The Kremlin did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Mr. Scholz’s remarks about the turbine.

Write to Bojan Pancevski at bojan.pancevski@wsj.com and Georgi Kantchev at georgi.kantchev@wsj.com

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