Germany’s nuclear plant operators show little appetite for runtime extension
Nuclear plant operators in Germany are unenthusiastic about the prospect of having to revise their long-prepared decommissioning plans despite growing calls for the extension of runtimes, Benedikt Müller-Arnold reports for Der Spiegel. Germany’s nuclear phase-out law currently prohibits operators E.ON, EnBW and RWE from letting their reactors run past the end of 2022, but a so-called stress test for the power grid being instigated by the economy and climate ministry (BMWK) will determine whether a change to the law could help secure the country’s energy supply throughout the coming winter. Opposition politicians, some of Germany’s EU neighbours and members of the public are also calling for nuclear plants to be kept running in case gas supplies from Russia drop further.
However, the operator companies are not so optimistic, with RWE head Markus Krebber calling the debate futile as recently as June. “The hurdles are high and the contribution to saving gas is too small,” Krebber has said. E.ON, which operates the most likely candidate for receiving an extension – the Bavarian Isar 2 reactor – said it would “earnestly” try to make extended operation possible if the government demands it, while EnBW said a “limited” extension is feasible. The companies’ reserved reaction “is due to a combination of financial insecurity and political pressure – as well as the unresolved question of who would ultimately be held accountable for additional nuclear waste and reduced safety standards in the event of a runtime extension,” Müller-Arnold writes.
The plant operators paid 24 billion euros in 2017 into a fund that handles nuclear waste storage costs, and agreed to a carefully concerted balance of residual power production capacity and fuel rod procurement leading to an end of operations this coming December. Contracts with specialist companies that dismantle the reactors have been made and staff retired according to the phase-out trajectory. A “stretched” operation, which is seen as a minimum concession by nuclear power advocates, would not increase total energy production in a significant way. Instead, it would merely shift the point in time when the last fuel rods’ energy is used. This means the plants would have to produce less energy in the time before the end of December to continue running thereafter. Nuclear power covered about 3 percent of Germany’s energy consumption in the first half of 2022.