Brigitte Knopf is well versed in the abysses of climate protection. The Berlin researcher is deputy chairwoman of the expert council for climate issues – the body that is supposed to examine the climate efforts of the federal government every year. When it comes to traffic in particular, the gap is “very, very large,” says Knopf: Total traffic emissions by 2030 could deviate from the German climate target by 260 million tons of carbon dioxide. “You can’t get there with small corrections,” says Knopf. And she has no idea how nuclear power is supposed to help. “I’m guessing a smoke screen,” she says.
Volker Wissing, Minister of Transport from the FDP, has brought nuclear power into play, and has done so again. In the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung he demanded another commission of experts on Tuesday. It is intended to clarify whether longer running times for nuclear power plants beyond the phase-out date in mid-April could help make transport more climate-friendly. After all, almost no CO₂ is produced with nuclear power, and electric cars can be operated in a more climate-friendly way than with coal-fired power, argues Wissing. It will also be cheaper that way.
Nuclear power only makes electricity marginally cheaper, says the expert
The FDP man is giving the coalition a return to a discussion that brought it to the brink of nuclear fission last fall. Because the Greens rejected continued operation of the nuclear power plant beyond the planned phase-out date at the turn of the year, but the FDP wanted continued operation, Chancellor Olaf Scholz was forced to make use of his directive authority – as the first Chancellor since Konrad Adenauer in 1956.
The ministries should clear the way for the continued operation of the three remaining nuclear power plants, Scholz wrote in a letter. But this “until 15.4.2023 at the latest”. From Thursday onwards, the nuclear power plants will only have a running time of exactly 100 days. Most recently, Bundestag President Bärbel Bas (SPD) had spoken out in favor of leaving it at that. When asked about Wissing’s initiative, government circles also said that the chancellor had decided the matter, meaning that the era of nuclear power in Germany ended in mid-April.
Wissing, who is also a member of the federal cabinet but was not one of the addressees of Scholz’s letter at the time, sees things differently. “We don’t need any political arguments or dogmatism now,” he says. Expertise is necessary. “If we don’t want to discuss it politically, then we have to clarify it scientifically.”
At least from the point of view of the scientist Knopf, there is not much to clarify. “That would only make electricity minimally cheaper, and it’s not sustainable either,” she says. It makes more sense to expand green energies. “And by the way, we don’t have the problem that we have too many electric cars and no longer know where to get the electricity for them. The problem is that diesel and petrol cars are still being bought in this country.” To change that, a big step is needed: the abolition of the company car privilege or the tax advantages for diesel, for example, a registration tax for combustion engines or a city toll in large cities. “Instead, we’re still setting incentives in the wrong direction,” says Knopf.
Does the minister only want to distract attention from the lack of traffic solutions?
Behind Wissing’s advance is more than just a new chapter in the runtime noise. A tangible dispute is looming over the achievement of Germany’s climate goals, and Climate Minister Robert Habeck from the Greens is monitoring them. The Climate Protection Act obliges Wissing to submit proposals with which the gaps in his sector can be filled. Last year he presented proposals for an “immediate program” that focuses on more bicycle traffic and mobile working, on efficient truck trailers and more charging stations. As early as August, Knopf’s expert advice had rejected this as insufficient. But Wissing does not want to deliver more at the moment. Instead, the Minister of Transport insists on changes to the Climate Protection Act that will give him more leeway.
This is causing trouble in circles in Habeck’s ministry – not just because it calls into question the chancellor’s authority to issue guidelines. The ministry also does not want to make any concessions to Wissing’s ministry. “Substantial proposals” are expected with which the gap in the transport sector can be closed. Diversionary maneuvers, it is said, would not help. And even in the environmental camp, the horror is growing. With such discussions, Wissing tries to distract from the fact that he has not yet presented any solutions to the problems in the transport sector, says Jens Hilgenberg, head of transport policy at BUND.
The traffic light coalition, which had actually planned a more constructive course for 2023, is sliding into the new year with the next dispute. “Nuclear power is not sustainable and certainly not cheap,” warned SPD parliamentary group leader Matthias Miersch on Tuesday. “All coalition partners should now focus their efforts on realizing the expansion targets for renewables set out in the coalition agreement. That’s what it’s about now.”
Green leader Ricarda Lang had just publicly warned Wissing to do more climate protection. “Each sector must contribute to the climate targets set in the law,” she said. Anger at the FDP’s recent advance was clear from party leadership circles – but also the hope that the chancellor would now keep his word. This time, says a manager, Olaf Scholz will not stop the nuclear phase-out.