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Global Economy

Two nuclear power plants remain as reserve

Two of the three remaining German nuclear power plants should be available as a reserve for the power supply by next spring. This is the result of a stress test presented by Economics Minister Robert Habeck in Berlin. Accordingly, the two power plants Neckarwestheim 2 in Baden-Württemberg and Isar 2 in Bavaria should form an "operational reserve until mid-April 2023". The third remaining Emsland power plant is to be completely shut down as planned by December 31st.

No new fuel elements

However, the two nuclear power plants Isar 2 and Neckarwestheim 2 should "in certain stressful situations in the power grid be able to make an additional contribution to the tense supply and grid situation in southern Germany identified in the stress test in winter 2022/23", according to the Ministry of Economic Affairs. "New fuel elements are not loaded and in mid-April 2023 the reserve will also be over," explained Habeck.

The reason given by the ministry is that nuclear power remains a high-risk technology and that high-level radioactive waste will burden future generations. "A general service life extension would therefore not be justifiable with regard to the safety status of the nuclear power plants," said Habeck. Therefore, an extension of the term is out of the question. The phase-out of nuclear power, as regulated in the Atomic Energy Act, will therefore be retained. In order to keep the piles in southern Germany in reserve, however, a change in the law is necessary, according to Habeck. It's not just a regulation.

"Very high security of supply in the electricity system"

The second stress test, which the network operators 50Hertz, TenneT, Amprion and TransnetBW carried out on behalf of the Federal Ministry of Economics, came to the conclusion "that crisis situations in the electricity system that lasted for hours in the winter of 22/23 are very unlikely, but cannot be completely ruled out at the moment ". Germany has a "very high security of supply in the electricity system".

"Overall, it has become clear that we are facing a tense situation throughout Europe," said the head of network operator 50Hertz, Stefan Kapferer. "Our message is very clear: it makes sense and is necessary to use every opportunity to increase electricity generation and transport capacities." The longer operation of the two nuclear reactors is one building block in a bundle of measures.

Only low performance

However, nuclear power plants can only make a limited contribution in really critical situations. In a "very critical" scenario, the nuclear power plants would only reduce the demand for electricity from abroad by 0.5 gigawatts, the transmission system operators reported. Even then there would still be a requirement from abroad of 4.6 gigawatts. Such balancing power plants can provide the German market with short-term electricity to compensate for grid bottlenecks.

The grid operators therefore also recommend further measures, such as increasing the north-south transport capacity and securing power plant capacity to compensate for grid bottlenecks abroad. It should also be made possible for large electricity consumers – for example industrial companies – to be able to do without electricity in exchange for compensation.

FDP reacts cautiously

In the course of the Russian attack on Ukraine, which massively increased the price of electricity and caused bottlenecks, especially with gas, voices after a nuclear power plant runtime extension had become louder and louder. The FDP, which is part of the government, had also campaigned for the continued operation of the nuclear power plants. FDP boss and Federal Minister of Finance Christian Lindner called today for the continued operation of the three nuclear power plants that are still producing.

Accordingly, representatives of the FDP reacted rather cautiously to Habeck's announcement. "It is a matter of common sense to enable every climate-neutral kilowatt hour now," writes the parliamentary manager of the parliamentary group, Johannes Vogel, on Twitter. "Habeck's emergency reserve is a step, but also appears as a political emergency exit."

Union wants full nuclear power

Union faction leader Friedrich Merz criticized the decision in advance. "It makes no sense now to talk about reserve, stand-by operations or anything like that," said Merz, who is also CDU chairman, before a meeting of CDU/CSU MPs in Berlin. Rather, it should now read: "Full speed ahead of all three nuclear power plants. Including new fuel rods, so that these nuclear power plants can possibly remain on the grid for three to four years until we have this crisis behind us."

The deputy parliamentary leader of the Union, Jens Spahn, was also critical of Habeck's announcement. "In this crisis, these three nuclear power plants could deliver energy and electricity for Germany safely, reliably and affordably. And they should continue to do so for at least the next two winters," said the CDU politician. Spahn called it remarkable that the nuclear power plant in Emsland, Lower Saxony, was apparently not even being considered for continued operation, even though it was the newest of all the nuclear power plants still in operation in Germany.

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