In mid-June, Gazprom reduced supplies via Nord Stream by 40%, which led to market panic and another jump in gas prices. The Russian company explained the decline in pumping volumes by the imposition of Western sanctions, in particular, Canada's refusal to return the gas turbine engine for the Nord Stream gas pipeline. The unit was being repaired at the manufacturer's plant, Siemens Energy in Montreal. On July 11, Gazprom has already completely suspended deliveries for 10 days, calling it planned technical work.
In the European Union, such actions were regarded as energy blackmail and a violation of contractual obligations and urged to prepare for a complete cessation of supplies. But Ottawa soon nevertheless agreed to return the turbine, and also withdrew other Gazprom gas-pumping equipment from sanctions. Nord Stream, although not at full capacity, has started working. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz convinced the Canadian prime minister to meet Putin halfway. European countries breathed a sigh of relief. However, Gazprom soon announced that the documents for the unit provided by Canada raise questions. On July 27, the company announced that another turbine was shutting down because it needed repairs. Russia has again cut gas supplies to Europe, now by 15%. Daily volumes of deliveries have decreased from 167 million cubic meters to 30 million cubic meters, which is one fifth of the planned capacity.
Daily volumes of gas supplies decreased from 167 million cubic meters to 30 million cubic meters, which is one-fifth of the planned capacity
The European Commission was not ready to stop gas supplies from Russia, because the dependence on it is still too high. Against the backdrop of these fears, former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder arrived in Moscow. He told reporters that he was on vacation. However, his wife revealed the real purpose of the trip: Schroeder, a friend of Putin and a former member of the board of directors of Rosneft, came to participate in informal gas negotiations. Representatives of Germany turned out to be the main negotiator, and there is nothing surprising in this: the country most of all in the European Union depends on Russian supplies. The German media is publishing chilling reports about the impact of energy shortages on businesses, and Environment and Energy Minister Robert Habeck has urged citizens to follow suit and shower for no more than five minutes to save water.
Energy crisis by inheritance
The current chancellor, Olaf Scholz, has to take the rap for the situation in which Germany finds itself. He was even predicted to resign due to the energy crisis.
“There is a real drama with the blame for the disastrous decision to abandon nuclear energy 10 years ago. Germany became completely dependent on Russia. Angela Merkel's once idolized reputation has been destroyed, and two-thirds of voters are condemning Olaf Scholz for failing to ensure energy security. The article says that Germany has been talking about the green transition and ecology the most, and as a result, she herself cannot get off the oil needle. According to the author of the material, now Germany is despised in the countries of Eastern Europe and the Baltics.
“Germany has no arguments against gas blackmailing Russia,” writes the British The Spectator and calls Germany the weakest link in the EU. Such attacks play into the hands of Russian propaganda. Presenters and experts on television are actively discussing the issue of Scholz's resignation and are trying to convince the public that sanctions against Russia primarily hit European leaders, not Moscow.
In fact, Scholz is forced to deal with the consequences of the policies of his predecessors. The history of Germany's dependence on Russian (and at that time still Soviet) energy resources dates back to the 70s. On February 1, 1970, representatives of the FRG and the Soviet leadership concluded the first major agreement on the construction of a pipeline from Siberia to Western Europe, the so-called "Deal of the Century" - gas in exchange for pipes. The FRG was supposed to supply the Union with machinery and equipment, including large-diameter pipes for the construction of a gas pipeline, and the USSR - gas for German industry in the amount of at least 52.5 billion cubic meters over 20 years.
Since then, for decades, Germany has developed relations with the USSR, and then Russia, on the principle of Wandel durch Handel - "change through trade." According to this idea, authoritarian countries can be reformed through dialogue, cooperation and joint business. Supporters of this idea believed that following this principle made it possible to break the Berlin Wall and contributed to the unification of Germany.
Throughout this time, the US and NATO have been warning that such cooperation would deprive the FRG of its energy independence. Back in 1970, U.S. diplomat and national security adviser Henry Kissinger wrote to President Richard Nixon: "Will he [former German Chancellor Willy Brandt] be able to control what he started?" However, these warnings were taken lightly in Germany. Berlin will never rely on the USSR for even 10% of its gas supplies, the head of the economy ministry's gas department argued in secret talks with the alliance.
Gas trap slammed shut
Fifty years later, the fears of the US and NATO came true. In 2020, Russia supplied Germany with more than half of its natural gas, about a third of all oil, and half of Germany's coal imports.
“The agreement ... has turned into an instrument of aggression. Now Berlin is financing Russia's war against Ukraine by paying for fuel supplies, ”writes The Guardian columnist Patrick Wintour.
“For thirty years, the Germans lectured the Ukrainians about fascism,” wrote Timothy Snyder, a professor in the field of Eastern Europe at Yale University in the USA, on his Twitter. “When fascism really came, it turned out that the Germans were financing it, and the Ukrainians were dying fighting against it.”
At the moment, Germany is the world's second largest importer of Russian fossil fuels after China, and the largest among the EU countries. During the first three months of the war, Germany purchased Russian gas for $12.7 billion, providing about 13% of Russian revenue from the export of fossil energy resources - oil, gas and coal. Moscow used this money to support the ruble and buy artillery shells shelling Ukrainian positions in Donetsk, writes The Guardian .
The issue of renunciation of Russian energy resources has become a cornerstone in the coordination of sanctions. After the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, only the United States and Sweden completely abandoned Russian energy imports, reducing it by 100% and 99%, respectively. Germany in May reduced its dependence by only 8% compared to March - this is one of the lowest results among the EU countries.
Since the start of the war, EU countries have paid a total of more than 77 billion euros for Russian fossil fuels, which is almost 6 times the amount Ukraine received in aid: about $13 billion as of July 26, according to the National Bank of Ukraine. The shortage of gas is not only Germany's problem. But if it plunges into recession, it could drag the rest of Europe along with it.
According to the sixth package of sanctions, at the end of 2022, a complete ban on the import of crude oil from Russia to the EU countries will come into effect. So it is likely that Germany will be left without fuel. The country is trying to find new sources and urgently diversify supplies, but it is difficult to catch up, primarily because of earlier decisions to abandon nuclear energy and coal, which the country has been moving towards for the past decades.
Without coal and peaceful atom
In the late 60s, the German authorities assumed that nuclear energy would become the main source of energy for the country. In total, from 1957 to 2004, about 110 reactors were launched in Germany, including research facilities, and new ones were actively built. Before the Fukushima disaster in Japan, Germany produced about a quarter of its electricity from nuclear fuel, about the same as in the United States.
Gradually, the share of nuclear energy in the total volume of electricity produced in Germany decreased until it stopped at a level of about 12%.
Discussions around nuclear energy began already in the 70s, even before the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, and after it they became even more relevant. Since the mid-1980s, not a single new nuclear power plant has been built in the country. There were nuclear power plants in the GDR, but after the reunification of Germany they were closed due to differences in safety standards. Under pressure from environmentalists, in 2000 the federal government and the energy supply companies reached the so-called "nuclear consensus". It was decided to ban the construction of new nuclear power plants and gradually close the existing ones. It can be said with certainty that the opponents of nuclear energy in Germany have won.
Now the country has three operating power units with a total capacity of 4 GW. These are nuclear power plants in the cities of Isar, Neckarwestheim and Emsland. But, according to the plan, they should be turned off this year. The question is, will the Scholz government do this, given the simultaneous planned phase-out of coal and the forced phase-out of Russian gas?
Of all the parties, the main critics of nuclear energy in Germany were the Greens. They have significantly strengthened their positions over the past decades. In the March elections to the Bundestag, the Union 90 / Greens took third place and entered into a coalition with Scholz's party - the Social Democrats. They also regularly spoke out against nuclear power.
The stake on renewable energy sources (RES), the rejection of the peaceful atom and the gradual departure from fossil sources formed the basis of the German energy transition project. The problem is that this plan did not provide for Russia's invasion of Ukraine and the need for an urgent withdrawal of Russian gas. Now you can forget about the energy transition, but Scholz is reminded more and more often about extending the service life of existing nuclear power plants - as the only way out of this situation.
Nuclear power is the lesser evil
Against the backdrop of the rejection of Russian energy resources, the European Parliament approved the use of the atom and the burning of gas as environmentally friendly. This is a very common point of view, and now the official one in Europe. On July 6, the temporary inclusion of nuclear and gas energy in the number of green investments was supported by 328 members of the European Parliament. 278 MPs voted against. The decision, among other things, will allow building nuclear power plants in Europe until 2045.
Nuclear power plants generate energy by fission of particles. No fossil fuels are burned, so nuclear power produces minimal carbon dioxide emissions. According to Standard Uranium, the use of nuclear power has reduced CO₂ emissions by more than 60 billion tons since 1970.
Even taking into account natural disasters and accidents (there have been 33 in history), nuclear power has one of the lowest death rates per terawatt-hour of electricity produced. For the calculation, the “life cycle assessment” method is used, with the help of which experts tried to determine the number of potential victims and victims from the very beginning of working with an energy resource and until it reaches the consumer.
The most dangerous species were expected to be fossils - coal and oil. The process of their extraction is associated with high risks for workers during the entire production process. Solar and hydropower are considered relatively safe. In the first case, the risks associated with the installation of solar panels. And accidents at hydroelectric power stations, although deadly, are extremely rare. Based on the same logic, nuclear power was among the safest, where there is less than one death per 10 terawatt-hours - a thousand times less than with coal.
Coal instead of an atom
The energy crisis in its current form could have been avoided if Germany had thought about diversifying sources earlier. Now it is obvious that it will not be possible to leave on renewable sources alone. Building solar and wind farms takes time, and winter is less than six months away.
The "greens" in Germany consistently opposed fossil sources, primarily coal, as the most "dirty", dangerous and unecological. Paradoxically, even this was considered by the German authorities to be a lesser evil compared to nuclear energy, and as a temporary measure they chose the resumption of not a nuclear power plant, but 16 stopped thermal power plants operating on coal and oil. We also decided to extend the life of 11 more such enterprises.
Scholz called the resumption of the operation of the CHP a difficult decision and promised that it would be only for a short time. The carbon footprint of electricity production in Germany is one of the largest in Europe precisely because of the significant use of coal. The country planned to phase it out by 2030. At the same time, they will refuse Russian oil from August 1, and oil from Russia - from December 31.
The carbon footprint of German electricity production is one of the largest in Europe due to the significant use of coal.
Germany is also building terminals for liquefied natural gas (LNG), which will come from abroad. Three terminals are planned to be built along the northern coast, but first, specialists need to find and neutralize all unexploded ordnance from World War II, writes The Wall Street Journal . In the area of the North and Baltic Seas, approximately 1.6 million tons of weapons and explosives may be at the bottom.
Interestingly, because of the heat in Germany, solar generation broke the record. But its influx is a drop in the ocean compared to the increase in air conditioning costs for homes and businesses.
Working on mistakes or walking on a rake
The advantage of nuclear power plants over other sources of green energy is obvious: nuclear plants can generate electricity around the clock, unlike solar and wind power plants, which depend on the weather, and the resources for nuclear energy are almost unlimited. Fuel costs are low, but building a nuclear power plant is a very expensive and time-consuming task. Therefore, there is no talk about the construction of new nuclear power plants in Germany yet, only the extension of the service life of existing nuclear power plants is being discussed. But it is also technically difficult. Olaf Scholz claimed that the fuel rods would last until the end of the year, and it would take from a year to a year and a half to get new ones if they were ordered now.
Representatives of other countries are also asking not to close the nuclear power plant in Germany. The Minister of Climate and Energy Policy of the Netherlands, Rob Jetten, said that it was stupid to do this against the backdrop of an energy crisis, and even more so on the eve of winter. The three remaining nuclear power plants could generate between 6% and 11% of energy on an annualized basis - a sizable share when every watt counts. This figure could be increased by opening already stopped stations, however, this story is much longer and more complicated.
Scholz wants to wait for the results of the second energy security stress test before making a decision. The government said that the result of the check will be no earlier than in a few weeks. Berlin does not have much time - cold weather will soon come to Europe. The war unleashed by Russia in Ukraine does not end. The question is whether the German government will find the political will to leave the nuclear power plant and finally abandon its usual plans to rely on Russia for fuel. Or the Wandel durch Handel approach will again prevail, and Russian energy resources will flow to Germany - under the influence of the German-Russian industrial lobby and Putin's ability to bribe and corrupt European politicians.