Enough Is Not Enough: Germany Extends Nuclear Phaseout by Average of 12 Years

Chancellor Merkel has spoken. At a press conference on September 6, the German head of state announced that her country’s nuclear phaseout will be extended by an average of 12 years. Merkel called the cabinet’s agreement on the government’s draft Energy Outlook for 2050 a “revolution” that further promotes Germany’s “most energy-efficient and most environmentally friendly energy supply worldwide.”

Germany extends nuclear phaseout – Flickr Creative Commons / miggslives

Unfortunately, Mrs. Merkel seems to disagree with many environmentalists about the difference between a sustainable, renewable, and truly “green” energy future and one that is based on the potentially hazardous exploitation of a scarce resource—i.e., uranium.

In the draft Energy Outlook, the lifespan of Germany’s 17 nuclear power plants will be extended by eight years if the plant was installed in or before 1980, and by 14 years if the plant was installed after 1980. The draft envisions cuts in German greenhouse gas emissions of 80 percent, a share of renewables in total energy consumption of 60 percent, and a share of renewables in electricity consumption of 80 percent, all to be reached by 2050.

Cabinet ministers will decide on the draft on September 28. After that, legislative proceedings will begin with readings in both the Bundestag (Germany’s parliament) and the Bundesrat (the federal assembly of the representatives of the German states, or “Länder”). In addition to the political controversy about the nuclear phaseout, however, there is currently an ongoing discussion about whether the Bundesrat can only comment on the bill, or has the right to veto it entirely.

The lack of clarity lies in the fact that Germany has two different kinds of laws, depending on a bill’s impact on Länder policy. If the impact is significant, the bill is deemed a “consent bill” that can be vetoed by the Bundesrat. But if the impact is quantitative rather than qualitative, the bill is considered an “objection bill”, on which the Bundesrat can only comment.

If it comes to a showdown in the Bundesrat, several German states would veto the bill for sure—specifically, those without any nuclear power plants of their own and those with a government coalition built with the social democratic and/or green party. This covers 11 out of the 16 states. Since Chancellor Merkel does not want her government’s position to be overturned by the Länder, it is likely that the Federal Constitutional Court will ultimately have to decide on the matter. And the outcome remains entirely open.

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