Germany keeps two nuclear reactors on standby to deal with gas crisis

A general view shows the Isar 2 nuclear power plant on the banks of the Isar river in Eschenbach near Landshut, Germany, August 17, 2022. REUTERS/Christian Mang/File Photo

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  • All nuclear reactors still to be shut down at the end of the year
  • Two reactors will remain in reserve in case of shortage
  • Electricity supply crises “very unlikely”, according to the minister
  • Critics say the move doesn’t go far enough given soaring prices
  • E.ON says to check if it is possible to put the plant on hold

BERLIN, Sept 5 (Reuters) – Germany plans to keep two of its three remaining nuclear power plants on standby, beyond a year-end deadline to drop fuel, to ensure sufficient electricity supplies during the winter in the event of a gas shortage.

German Economy Minister Robert Habeck said in a statement on Monday that the move does not mean Berlin is backtracking on its long-standing promise to phase out nuclear power by the end of 2022.

Habeck said a stress test of power grid operators had shown there could be hours of power supply crisis over the winter given the tightness of the European electricity market. energy.

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“It remains very unlikely that we will have crisis situations and extreme scenarios,” Habeck said. “I must do whatever is necessary to fully guarantee security of supply.”

The move is particularly hard to swallow for Habeck’s Greens, who emerged from the anti-nuclear movement of the 1970s, although the exit was initiated by former Conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011.

Habeck said the government still views nuclear power as a high-risk technology that generates radioactive waste that will burden future generations.

While Germany’s three remaining nuclear reactors would still be offline by December 31, the southern power plants Isar 2 and Neckarwestheim 2 would remain on standby for any emergency until mid-April.

The two plants have a capacity of 1,400 megawatts (MW) and are operated separately by E.ON (EONGn.DE) and EnBW (EBKG.DE).

Utilities will be compensated for personnel and operating costs incurred during the additional months.

One of the reasons for the tense energy situation is Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which led to a restriction or even a halt to Russian gas flows to Europe, Habeck said. Gas combustion accounted for 15.3% of German electricity production last year.

“We will have to solve our energy problems no longer taking into account the erratic decisions of (Russian President Vladimir) Putin,” Habeck said.

NOT ENOUGH

Habeck said that the two plants would not be equipped with new fuel elements and that the reserve was only an option.

“We have to prepare for the worst,” he told a press briefing. “Factories will only reopen when more electricity is needed.”

When asked why the government had not opted for longer plant operations to help cap electricity prices, he replied that it had responded with a tax on electricity producers to help protect consumers by redistributing the benefits of electricity. Read more

Opposition Conservatives said Habeck’s proposal did not go far enough and accused the three-party coalition government of caving in to the ideological demands of the Greens.

“When we demand solidarity (from Europe on gas), we must also make our contribution to energy production,” said Steffen Bilger, deputy leader of the Conservative parliamentary group.

The other party in the junior coalition, the business-friendly Free Democrats (FDP), was also critical, maintaining that the three nuclear reactors should be operating longer, not just on standby.

“It is simply a matter of reason to activate every climate-neutral kilowatt hour now,” said FDP deputy leader Johannes Vogel.

BETTER NEXT YEAR

Berlin was taking steps to ensure electricity supply, such as resurrecting some idle coal-fired power plants and increasing grid capacity, Habeck said, noting that Germany’s electricity supply was generally very sure and that he was an exporter of electricity.

However, Germany is part of a European system hit by a drop in Russian gas supplies, the French nuclear crunch and a drought that has dampened hydroelectric generation and the supply of cooling water to thermal power stations as well as the coal deliveries by barge.

EnBW said the government needed to create a legal framework to extend the life of its nuclear reactor and detail plans, before it could check the possibility of keeping it on standby.

E.ON said the most important question would be to consider whether this was technically and organizationally feasible.

“Nuclear power plants in their technical design are not reserve power plants that can be switched on and off variably,” he said.

By winter 2023/24, Germany will have additional gas import capacities in the form of floating storage and regasification units (FSRUs), the government has indicated. This factor and others would reduce the uncertainties regarding the power supply.

Northern Germany, where the third Emsland nuclear reactor is located, may be able to tap into oil-fired power generation capacity if needed, he added.

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Reporting by Vera Eckert and Sarah Marsh; Additional reporting by Markus Wacket, Andreas Rinke and Alexander Ratz; Editing by Alexander Smith and Richard Chang

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Vera Eckert

Thomson Reuters

Principal electricity correspondent for Germany with over 30 years of experience and focused on deregulated energy markets for electricity and gas, business, networks, exchanges, renewable energies, politics, the storage, transport of the future and hydrogen. A German native who studied and worked in the United States and Great Britain.

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