"I feel that it’s a mistake to close them down in order to focus on coal."

Who Needs Coal?

Prominent climate activist Greta Thunberg has seemingly changed her tune — or at least softened her stance — on nuclear power.

In an interview on the German national TV channel Das Erste this week, the 19-year-old Swedish activist shared her thoughts on the German government’s decision to revert to burning coal in the wake of a deepening energy crisis brought about by the Russia-Ukraine war.

"Personally I think that it’s a very bad idea to focus on coal when [nuclear power] is already in place," Thunberg said in the interview. "But of course, it’s a very infected debate."

Timely Solution

When asked if nuclear power is the "better choice for the time being" to address the climate crisis, Thunberg said "it depends."

"If we have them already running," she continued, "I feel that it’s a mistake to close them down in order to focus on coal."

The interviewer pressed Thunberg on her answer, and asked if she thinks nuclear power should be phased out as soon as possible, but her answer to that, too, was "it depends."

"We don’t know what will happen after this," Thunberg added.

Change of Heart

Thunberg’s responses are a marked departure from her usual rhetoric surrounding nuclear power. It was only as recently as this summer that Thunberg lumped natural gas and nuclear power together, condemning them both as "false solutions" that were a symptom of "greenwashing," in a tweet ahead of the European Parliament’s eventual decision to label the two forms of energy as renewables.

Still, Thunberg’s replies this week were noticeably cautious, avoiding outright decrying nuclear power, but also avoiding touting it as the panacea to our energy and climate problems.

Wherever she truly stands on nuclear, it’s a bold — albeit somewhat tepid — position to take in a country like Germany, which has had a strained relationship with nuclear power despite being early adopters. The government vowed in 2011 to shut down all nuclear power plants by the end of this year, but those plans have been delayed as the nation struggles to worm its way out of the energy crisis.

More on nuclear power: China Announces Plan for Hybrid Fission-Fusion Power Facility

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