Why German nuclear is not that relevant to the current crisis
Nuclear is not a substitute for gas in power generation
A lot of people have commented, even after Germany’s strong new stance in this crisis, that the closure of its nuclear plants was the cause of the country’s dependency on natural gas, and that they should be re-opened.
While there is a good argument, from a climate perspective, that nuclear plants should not have been closed before the very dirty lignite plants, the impact on gas use on the power sector is close to zero, as a simple look at actual production numbers shows:
One can see that production has been relatively stable around 500 TWh/y. Since 2002, nuclear is down 60% (by roughly 100 TWh/y), lignite is down 30% (by 40 TWh/y), coal is down 60% (by 70 TWh/y) and gas is only up by 10 TWh/y. The difference is fully made up of renewables (120 TWh/y of wind, 50 TWh/y of solar, plus 40 TWh/y of biomass) going from nothing to 40% in less than 20 years, and still growing with regularity.
So gas for power has basically not moved. It is used as the flexible power source (alongside coal), not as baseload (or even midload these days). Germany’s use of gas is mostly for heating and industry, and having more nuclear would do very little to change that. It is important to note that even though renewables moved from 0 to 40%, the flexible component of generation (gas+coal) has actually shrunk significantly, strongly suggesting that balancing the grid with renewables is something that can be done…
France has shown, after 40 years of effort, that heating can be done to some extent via electricity, but it’s taken a really long time to get there. Whether an accelerated programme to switch could be done, that still does not mean that nuclear is best placed to provide that - it is simply faster and cheaper to build more renewables, and in any case having more nuclear would certainly not reduce the need for flexible gas or coal-fired plants that provide the needed flexibility to match the daily variations in demand that inflexible baseload nuclear cannot deal with anyway.
On the industrial side, electrification of certain processes (like steel production using green hydrogen) is also the way to go