Nuclear power, yes please? Further action depends on several factors

BERLIN Claim: The three remaining German nuclear power plants (AKWs) can simply remain connected to the grid to compensate for supply bottlenecks.

Evaluation: No, it’s not that simple.

The Facts: The extension of a nuclear power plant’s runtime beyond the end of 2022 depends on several factors. The question is whether the effort justifies the return. Overview:

Which nuclear power plant is it?

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Under current law, the three nuclear power plants Isar 2, Emsland and Neckarwestheim 2 must be closed by December 31, 2022 at the latest. According to the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems, they account for 6.4 percent of Germany’s net electricity production this year, with 17.8 terawatt hours (TWh) to date (as of July 21 at 12:30).

For comparison: 10.0 percent of electricity (28.0 TWh) was previously generated from natural gas. Lignite and hard coal account for 30.8 percent. (86.0 TWh). Most of the electricity comes from renewable energy sources: wind (26.4 percent, 73.5 TWh), sun (13.0 percent, 36.3 TWh) and other sustainable energy sources combined use 51.7 percent (144.1 TWh) ).

TWh is one billion kilowatt hours (KWh). A four-person household consumes an average of 4085 kWh per year. So far, the 17.8 TWh generated from nuclear energy in 2022 would be enough to supply over four million such households.

One thing is for sure: the three reactors can provide the same amount of energy as before – and nothing else. Nuclear engineer Thomas Walter Tromm of the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), however, is in favor of an extension of several months. Then “you can at least get through the winter without buying new fuel elements,” he says.

According to a nuclear engineer, the electricity produced by three nuclear power plants could replace natural gas for heating around three million single-family homes annually after the turn of the year.

Longer power with less power?

The Federal Ministries of Environment and Economy concluded from their spring study that the three nuclear power plants with existing fuel rods could only continue to operate after December 31 if their power generation was suppressed earlier.

Their life extension report mentions the so-called “stretching operation”. According to the test, this means: “Nuclear power plants would then produce less electricity in summer 2022 to be able to continue producing electricity in the first quarter of 2023 after December 31, 2022.” He continues: “Overall, there will be no more electricity from today until the end of March 2023.” So if politicians insist that nuclear power plants only run for a short time, it would be at the expense of electricity production so far.

If the operation were to continue, the legislator would first have to amend the law on nuclear energy, according to which three nuclear power plants must be closed by December 31 at the latest. If official effort is made, says Tromm, a nuclear technician at KIT, it makes sense “then to let the nuclear power plants run longer.”

However, the nuclear power plant operators EnBW (Neckarwestheim 2), RWE (Emsland) and the subsidiary Eon PreussenElektra (Isar 2) have already rejected the possibility of extending the working hours.

Do you need new fuel rods?

New fuel rods are a bigger problem. In the research report of the Ministry of Environment and Economy we read: Extending the operating hours of nuclear power plants would generate additional amounts of electricity only “if they were filled with newly manufactured fuel rods”. The departments assume 18 to 24 months for the entire ordering and production process and 12 to 15 months for the accelerated process. As a result, the test report lists the additional amounts of electricity as “no sooner than in autumn 2023”.

What about security?

Even if, according to the Tromm nuclear technician, short-term continuous operation for several months does not reduce safety, more measures are necessary to extend the service life.

According to information from the Ministry of Environment and Economy, the comprehensive safety test, which was last carried out in 2009, must be repeated for each furnace. It is impossible to estimate if or what needs to be upgraded and replaced. An extension of the deadlines by “at least three to five years is necessary to justify this effort economically,” he says.

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