Germany Sees Tidal Shift in Sentiment Toward Atomic Energy

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Ideologically Flexible

How should politicians respond to the resurrection of an issue that had long been consigned to the dustbin of history?

They become ideologically flexible. Driven by the fear of angry voters unsure about their energy supply, more and more decision-makers are showing themselves to be willing to make concessions. Even Chancellor Olaf Scholz said a few days ago that an extension of the lifespan of nuclear plants could “make sense” when he visited a Gazprom turbine intended for the Nord Stream I gas pipeline from Russia for a bizarre photo op and press event. Even Winfried Kretschmann, Germany’s only Green state governor, a man who once wore a “no thanks” to nuclear power button on his lapel at demonstrations, can also imagine a “possible time-limited extension.” The heads of the CDU and the CSU, Friedrich Merz and Markus Söder, were just photographed together in a joint visit to the Isar 2 power plant, which they would like to see continue operating until 2024.

In political circles in Berlin, the nuclear debate is causing intrigue and increasing nervousness. Just a few weeks ago, Green Economics Minister Robert Habeck had a fairly relaxed approach to the nuclear question. But the mood in society has shifted, and this hasn’t escaped the Greens.

The speed of the change is making some Greens dizzy – and they are already worried that their own people might change their minds. A majority in favor of a limited extension of the operating span of nuclear power plants, both among the party’s base and the public more broadly, would have to be taken seriously.

For weeks, the FDP, in particular, has been pushing for extending the plants’ operations. FDP leader and Finance Minister Christian Lindner and FDP Secretary General Bijan Djir-Sarai have been poking at their Green Party government coalition partner. Most recently, Lindner proposed allowing the three remaining German nuclear power plants to keep operating until 2024 “if necessary.” For Lindner, the strategist, it’s not only a question of providing a steady energy supply for Germans, but also about keeping his own party’s ratings stable in the polls.

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