What was achieved with the exit?: What is Habeck right about in the nuclear debate and what is he misleading us about?

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One year after the phase-out of nuclear energy, the Federal Minister of Economic Affairs draws a completely different assessment from that of the nuclear energy enthusiast Wendland. Who has the reason? Statements in verification of facts.

A year ago, Germany's last three nuclear power plants finally stopped operating, bringing an era to an end. Apart from numerous discussions and media reports, this does not seem to have had much impact.

On the first anniversary of the shutdown, debate has erupted again over whether phasing out nuclear power was the right thing to do. Around the same time, Federal Economy Minister Robert Habeck (Greens) and nuclear energy campaigner Anna Veronika Wendland published their opinion on X.

Do their claims hold up, especially when they represent opposing points of view? Andreas Jahn classifies statements in fact-checking. He is an energy expert at the Regulatory Assistance Project, an independent non-governmental organization focused on innovation in the energy industry.

Security of supply: Habeck's opponents have few arguments

Habeck states: “Security of supply is always guaranteed, 24 hours a day, 24 hours a day, all year round. The Minister of Economy further states: “We import a little more electricity than we export.” […] “We could produce electricity ourselves at any time.”

The expert Jahn confirms this statement. The phase-out of nuclear energy had no effect on security of supply; after all, it was planned. “Security is not guaranteed at the national level, but is a European issue. This has been the case for almost 20 years and in the last year it has not changed.” Sometimes Germany supplies more to this market, sometimes to other countries.

The fact that Germany imported more electricity last year than it exported is not a sign of a supply gap and has little to do with the phase-out of nuclear power. In many cases it was simply cheaper to buy electricity abroad.

This was especially the case in summer. Electricity consumption drops sharply during these months. However, production cannot be reduced so quickly. For example, it is difficult to close a nuclear power plant in France, explains Jahn. Until March and starting in November, Germany exported electricity produced in large quantities by wind energy.

Habeck's critics point out that security of supply can only be ensured by greater intervention in the electricity supply. Jahn finds this argument misleading. The costly interventions are not due to the phase-out of nuclear energy or alleged supply bottlenecks, but are technically necessary due to the design of the electricity market.

Conclusion: Habeck's statements are correct.

CO2 balance: Habeck ignores part of the truth

Wendland says: “The CO2 balance of our electricity industry is one of the worst in Europe. It will only improve slowly because the expansion of volatile renewables requires dirty fossil energy as backup.” Habeck, for his part, underlines: “CO2 emissions have decreased by -20 percent.”

Habeck's statement raises the question of whether the decline of the energy industry could have been even greater if CO2-friendly nuclear power plants had remained available. Jahn points out that there is no clear answer to this question because a lot depends on the electricity market. “If nuclear energy had been cheaper than electricity from fossil fuels, then the decline could have been somewhat larger. On the other hand, the overall price of electricity could have been cheaper and therefore consumption would have been higher, which would have nullified the effect.”

Wendland published a graph that purports to support the fact that even more CO2 could have been saved with nuclear power. The graphic comes from the Radiant Energy Group, founded by a nuclear lobbyist. This does not have to weaken the meaning. But Wendland usually places great importance on neutrality; For example, he considers experts from state-funded institutions to be biased.

Regarding the reduction of emissions, Jahn points out a connection that the Minister of Economy does not mention: “Since electricity was very expensive, some in the sector questioned whether production was still profitable and, in case of doubt, the they cut back. Of course, this also contributes to the reduction of emissions, but it only explains part of it.”

According to the energy expert, another cause of the decrease in CO2 is the drop in gas prices. As a result, gas was sometimes again preferred over dirtier coal in the energy market. And finally, the expansion of renewable energies contributes decisively to reducing emissions.

The fact that the CO2 balance of the German electricity industry is so bad, as Wendland emphasizes, is due to the different energy sources on which European countries depend. France, which has nuclear power, is actually cleaner than Germany, but Poland, which traditionally has a lot of coal-fired power, is significantly dirtier.

Wendland says that will continue to be the case. Fluctuations in renewable energy production should be compensated for by dirty electricity, for example from gas-fired power plants. Expert Jahn, for his part, emphasizes: “It depends on how the backup is designed. If power plants are only available in the background and rarely operate, this will hardly have any effect on emissions. In theory, CO2 emissions could decrease relatively quickly.” Ultimately, the decisive factor for the amount of savings is not the standby gas power plants, but the timing of lignite phase-out.

Conclusion: Habeck only mentions part of the truth. Wendland paints a grim scenario that doesn't have to happen.

Costs and prices: Wendland gives dubious figures

Habeck spreads positive news in the video: “Wholesale prices have dropped by 40 percent. This now reaches consumers and the economy late.” Wendland, for his part, underlines: “German electricity prices are among the highest in Europe and remain high. He also talks about between 500 and 3 billion euros being paid for energy.” Operators would have to “compensate for the inherent shortcomings of volatile German renewables. […] – what nuclear power plants have always been able to do.”

The price drop has nothing to do with the phasing out of nuclear power. Jahn finds it misleading that Habeck mentions her in the nuclear phase-out video. “The drop in prices is due to various measures, such as the expansion of LNG. As a result, the price of gas has dropped and electricity has become cheaper.”

According to Jahn, Wendland's claim that electricity prices in Germany are the highest is inaccurate. Wholesale prices are not significantly more expensive at the moment. In terms of prices for the end customer, however, Germany is far ahead. “The price in Germany is so high mainly because of network fees. “But that has nothing to do with phasing out nuclear energy,” he explains.

Wendland's figures on the costs of the energy transition come from a study linked to the nuclear energy supporter. Jahn does not find the calculations completely understandable. Some figures are significantly lower in reality. The up to 3 billion euros that would have to be paid to energy operators are high.

Wendland also assumes that power plants will be needed that can intervene quickly in case of bottlenecks. “In terms of consumption, there is flexibility, for example through batteries and storage,” emphasizes Jahn. Wendland ignores a paradigm shift as a result of the energy transition: “In the future, we will produce when it is cheap. In the past, production was based on consumption.”

Nuclear energy, which Wendland proposes as an alternative, is cheap to produce. But high costs would arise if one wanted to maintain nuclear plants or even build new ones. No private investor would take this risk without government guarantees and support. There are also final storage costs, about which Wendland is silent.

“If you seriously consider going back to nuclear energy, that also means that all previous investments in renewable energy would have to be tested,” adds Jahn. “In reality, market participants always want to move forward with a decision that has already been made. Because every change is expensive.”

Conclusion: Habeck's reference to prices is misleading. Wendland makes false assumptions and ignores the costs of nuclear energy.

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