08 Sep 2022, 13:31
Benjamin Wehrmann

German econ min “astonished” by nuclear plant operator’s objection to emergency reserve

Clean Energy Wire / BR

Economy and climate minister Robert Habeck has reacted with irritation to a German nuclear plant operator’s objection to his plans for putting two of the remaining reactors in the country into an emergency reserve for grid stability for the first months of 2023. Habeck said he had taken note of a letter submitted by PreussenElektra, a nuclear power subsidiary of energy company E.ON, “with some astonishment”. The operator company of the Isar 2 plant, in southern state Bavaria, had said Habeck’s emergency reserve plans are “technically unfeasible”, public broadcaster BR reported. PreussenElektra said the plant could not be turned off and on again as needed for its purpose in an emergency reserve to stabilise the grid in critical situations, especially if there is not refueling with nuclear rods beforehand. The company said it had no experience with such an operation mode and “running a trial of a never-been-done procedure” in the current energy crisis would not be compatible with its own nuclear safety standards. The Green Party minister countered that the company “apparently has not understood the concept” of the reserve, as the idea was not to run reactors up and down but to have a power production capacity backup for a calculable situation of grid bottlenecks that provide enough lead time for taking all necessary precautions for safe operation. The minister had explained earlier this week that he does not expect plants to be turned off and on several times. If Germany decided to keep the plants online during the coming winter then the plants would run continuously until April.

Habeck said his ministry had been in close contact with PreussenElektra before announcing the decision for an emergency reserve and the operator company had assured that turning the reactor off and on again would be technically possible for allowing a so-called “stretched” operation mode. “But exactly this should not be possible for the reserve, they’re saying today. This is difficult to comprehend from a technical point of view,” the minister said, adding that his ministry would now try to clarify what the operator’s position actually is. Moreover, safety standards would always be respected, as any kind of longer operation beyond the scheduled end date on 31 December this year would make technical revision by regulators necessary, Habeck added.

Following a grid stress test conducted by grid operators, Habeck on Monday had announced the ministry would call for moving the Isar 2 plant and another reactor in southern Germany in an emergency reserve until mid-April before decommissioning them for good. The measure would provide the government with more energy policy flexibility in the coming winter but not fundamentally alter the decision to end nuclear power swiftly, he argued. His decision had been widely criticised both by proponents and by opponents of nuclear power. Industry figures and opposition politicians argued that a more comprehensive extension for nuclear power is necessary and that the decision unnecessarily complicates energy supply, whereas environmental NGOs criticised that even putting the reactors in a reserve already amounted to a cancellation of the agreed phase-out model.

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