A nuclear U-turn
Germany was supposed to end this year as the world’s only leading industrial nation to have abandoned atomic power, a plan put in motion after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear plant disaster in Japan. Now, the war is prompting the German government to consider reversing that decision, my colleague Erika Solomon reports.
The plan agreed to under former Chancellor Angela Merkel would have allowed Germany to fuel itself with cheap Russian gas as it transitioned to renewable energy. But Russian cuts to gas supplies in Europe have left countries scrambling for alternatives.
This week Chancellor Olaf Scholz publicly acknowledged for the first time that plans to shut down the country’s remaining three nuclear plants on Dec. 31 may no longer be viable.
Scholz was responding to the sense among over 80 percent of Germans, according to recent polls, that the country must re-evaluate its shift away from nuclear power — among the most emotional and divisive debates the country has grappled with since reunification.
“We are having conversations we thought we would never have to have again,” said Rosi Steinberger, a member of the regional parliament in Bavaria, a state that will most likely find itself in most need of nuclear power because of likely energy shortages.
“This is painful for all of us,” said Steinberger, a member of the Green Party, which has roots in the antinuclear movement. “But we are also under the shadow of this war in Ukraine.”
Many Germans’ visceral rejection of nuclear power is wrapped up with Cold War fears that their nation, on the front line of Europe’s Iron Curtain, could become the ground zero of nuclear annihilation. The 1986 Chernobyl nuclear meltdown in Ukraine, when a cloud of radioactive fallout rained down on parts of Germany, has deepened the apprehension.
The country’s remaining three nuclear power plants provide only about 6 percent of Germany’s energy supply.
But keeping the plants active may still make sense — not for Germany, but for Europe. Because European states often share electricity, keeping nuclear power on in Germany may become necessary if France experiences outages.
Electricity sharing could also mean that Germany would buy nuclear-produced power from neighboring countries like France or the Czech Republic, where a disaster could hurt Germans as much as an accident in their own country.
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Farming in a war zone
Crop fields don’t just make up a large part of Ukraine; they are a visceral part of its national identity. The country’s yellow-and-blue flag symbolizes a golden wheat field beneath a blue sky.
Ukraine is one of the world’s largest grain-exporting nations, with agriculture accounting for about 11 percent of gross domestic product and 41 percent of exports.
A recent deal to free up grain shipments that were blockaded in Ukrainian ports raised hopes for Ukrainian farming. Three more ships filled with grain departed today, just days after the first vessel left Odesa.
But the country’s farmers still face the problem of growing and reaping crops in a war zone, the Times Kyiv bureau chief, Andrew Kramer, reports.
The farmers brave some of the same dangers that soldiers face. Russian artillery and mines have killed tractor drivers. Strikes have burned thousands of acres of ripe wheat, and craters from incoming shells pockmark the landscape.
The farmers say they have little choice. Much of Ukraine’s grain crop is winter wheat and barley, sown in early fall and harvested the following summer. If farmers don’t harvest now, they can lose a year’s investment.
Even though grain ships are moving again, Ukraine’s farming is expected to take a hit. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has forecast that Ukraine’s wheat exports, worth $5.1 billion last year, will fall by half after this year’s harvest.
How has the war affected your finances?
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As nearly all elderly folks who depend on Social Security as their only income, I am being squeezed from all sides economically. I can no longer make ends meet and see no hope of any let-up soon. My “golden years” are slowly morphing into a lead weight around my neck. – Robert L Welch, Wilmington, NC
Prices rose for everything. Fuel/oil seems to cost double of what it cost one year ago. Sheltering refugees has also increased costs. It seems that everything comes from Ukraine: from electrical cabinets to different kinds of juice, everything had a price increase with Ukraine war as the reason. —Mathias, Nürnberg, Germany
What else we’re following
The U.S. is preparing a $1 billion package of security assistance to Ukraine that will include munitions and armed medical transport vehicles, Reuters reported.
Ukrainian authorities in Mykolayiv said they will impose a strict curfew in the southern city over the weekend to hunt down Russia’s collaborators.
The U.S. ambassador to the U.N. warned African countries not to buy anything from Russia except for grain and fertilizer.
The E.U. plans to provide Ukraine with 8 billion euros in aid through grants and loans, Politico reported.
The Times took a look at Russian penal colonies, where Brittney Griner has been ordered to serve out her nine year sentence on drug charges.
Russia’s electronic warfare is beginning to detect and degrade Ukrainian communications, the IEEE Spectrum reports.
A former U.S. official who oversaw Viktor Bout’s arrest wrote in Foreign Policy about the dangers his release in exchange for Griner could pose for U.S. national security.
Ukrainian democracy will be sorely tested after the war, Daniel Baer writes in Foreign Affairs.
Thanks for reading. Have a great weekend. I’ll be back Monday — Yana
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Agriculture, Nytimes – Agriculture and Farming