28 Sep 2022, 13:39
Benjamin Wehrmann

Nuclear plant operators and German government agree to extend operations until April 2023

Clean Energy Wire

Germany’s economy ministry and the operators of two of the country’s three remaining nuclear plants have agreed on a concept for keeping them in an emergency reserve beyond their scheduled decommissioning date until 15 April 2023. The plants Isar 2 in southern state Bavaria and Neckarwestheim 2 in neighbouring Baden-Wurttemberg will be transferred into the reserve on 31 December – the date they were due to be taken offgrid. Instead, they will be “kept ready to avert a looming power grid bottleneck in southern Germany,” the economy ministry said. Minister Robert Habeck said “the task is to guarantee supply while at the same time accounting for the fact that nuclear power is a high-risk technology that requires following a strict safety protocol.” Germany generally has a stable electricity system without the nuclear plants but supply security must be viewed in a European context, the Green Party minister said, pointing at the difficulties neighbouring France had keeping its nuclear plant fleet operational during the summer.

The minister said the 50 gigawatts (GW) of nuclear power capacity initially announced by France are unlikely to be made available as planned. French authorities are now preparing for a peak capacity of just 45 GW for a limited period of time during winter, which might then drop to merely 40 GW. “This would be an extreme scenario” that will require the deployment of Germany’s remaining two nuclear plants, Habeck argued. Whether the nuclear plants will actually be deployed and feed into the grid will be decided according to criteria defined in Germany’s grid stress test conducted earlier this year. Factors that would influence this decision are the availability of French nuclear plants, the available capacity of gas-fired plants as well as coal-fired power plants that have returned to the market, and the expected development of power prices. A decision would be made by December, the ministry said. “Given what we know today, I think that it is going to be necessary,” Habeck added.

Environment minister Steffi Lemke said letting the plants run longer than planned could become necessary due to the energy crisis. However, she added that this will not change Germany’s general plan to phase out nuclear power as soon as possible. “A runtime extension beyond the coming winter and the procurement of the fuel rods that would be needed for that is out of the question for me,” said the Green Party minister, who is also responsible for nuclear safety. 

The plant operators would make provisions to allow continued operations until next spring, the ministry added, including repair works at the Isar 2 plant, which will require taking the reactor offline for a week in October. Energy company E.ON, whose subsidiary PreussenElektra operates the reactor in Bavaria, said the Isar 2 plant could provide up to two terawatt hours (TWh) of electricity until March 2023. Neckarwestheim 2’s operator EnBW said the installation would be able to provide 1.7 TWh until April. Environmental groups criticised the decision to keep the plants in a reserve, with Greenpeace arguing controlled demand reduction would have been a better a safer way to avoid grid bottlenecks during winter. 

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