Clemens Walther: Keep working without compromising safety
Possoch: What about the safety of German nuclear power plants? The last periodic safety review should have been in 2019, but has been canceled due to the withdrawal from nuclear power plants.
Walther: You keep comparing it to the TÜV and you say: If I don’t bring my car to TÜV every two years, I’m not allowed to drive it anymore. It is a bit different with nuclear power plants, which have very strict safety controls. But of course you don’t drive it to just any test station. It is not that the plant could only be operated until December 31, 2022 as the TÜV sticker expired three years ago and is now a safety risk. This is not correct.
Possoch: Does this mean that these safety checks are not intended to identify serious safety deficiencies, such as in the case of an automotive TÜV?
Walther: No, tests are carried out to determine if the systems are still subject to the current state of science and technology or if there are any defects. So the point is not that the power plants broke down, but that you have to follow the latest discoveries there – for example, from events at other identical power plants. As long as it is said that these theoretical exams on the desk do not imply any need for action, the plant may continue to operate. And if a power plant still needs to be shut down to reload, for example fuel elements, appropriate, non-urgent work is performed.
With limited lifetime extension, no impact on the radioactive waste repository
Possoch: One of the biggest problems with nuclear energy is radioactive waste. Could the amount of nuclear waste significantly increase if the nuclear power plants were still operating?
Walther: If we were to continue operating these three plants now – I would say generously for three years – the amount of radioactive waste would increase by a low, one-digit percent. You can calculate it relatively easily. This was already calculated about ten years ago by the “Working Group for the Repository Selection Procedure”. And technically, it would not be a change in the storage space requirements. Whether they need to store 3% more or less of the final storage kegs now, it doesn’t make any difference to your requirements.
Possoch: And yet the nuclear waste debate seems to play a key role?
Walther: There is now a relatively large party consensus as well as consensus among the population that they want to solve this problem with the repository. Because we know there are clearly defined finite amounts of waste. If we were to say now that we would allow more reactors to operate, and in extreme cases perhaps even for an unlimited period of time, this amount of waste would no longer be completely limited, but there could be more – just a little, but no one would know how much. And politically, that would probably be a problem. If you were to say that nuclear power plants will only be operating one to three years longer now, and that this would mean 3% more nuclear waste, I could definitely imagine being able to compromise. If we are very quick, our repository page will be found in 2031. After that, further exploration begins, and then the technical implementation begins. By that time, you would have long since finished the tensile operation, ie moving to keeping the nuclear power plants connected to the grid.
Nuclear energy instead of coal?
Possoch: However, there are many indications that, instead of nuclear energy, coal power should fill Germany’s potential energy gaps. What’s your opinion on this?
Walther: I do not think that the decision to withdraw coal-fired power plants from the reserve will be easy for the green parties. Asking countries for fossil resources with which previously trading contacts were less popular is certainly a decision that no one was satisfied with. This means that we are already in a situation where we need to rethink everything. I don’t think anyone in Germany doubts that the phase-out of nuclear power will be maintained sooner or later. It is only a question: are we now using the reserves that we still have, or are nuclear energy being replaced by coal now.
Possoch: Thank you for the conversation.