Two nuclear power plants on standby – what does it mean and answers

Two of the three remaining German nuclear power plants should be operational by next year. But the amount of electricity that is additionally generated by the old fuel rods is very manageable.

Danger of energy shortages, rising prices: A controversial debate is underway in Germany over the continued use of nuclear energy. In a press conference on Monday evening, Federal Economy Minister Robert Habeck announced that two of the three remaining German nuclear power plants see you next spring as an emergency reserve can continue. Power plants are to be ready by mid-April 2023. Neckarwestheim in Baden-Württemberg and Isar 2 in Bavaria still available for power. In certain stressful situations, plants should secure power supply in the power grid. The Emsland power plant in Lower Saxony is therefore scheduled to shut down on December 31, 2022.

The federal government planned in advance another energy security stress test, from which it concluded that “crises in the power system in winter 22/23 are very unlikely, but cannot be completely ruled out at the moment” – wrote in the statement of the Federal Ministry Economy.

“We are not in a position to hope for the best, we have to expect the worst,” said Habeck. It cannot be ruled out that nuclear power plants may contribute to the tense situation. This is a debate that has traditionally sparked big political waves in Germany, is very emotional and has been occupying the republic for a long time, he said about the operation of nuclear power plants.

What is this new reserve supposed to be?

The Ministry of Economy calls them “operating reserves”. If necessary, Isar 2 in Bavaria and Neckarwestheim in Baden-Württemberg should make an additional contribution to the electricity grid in winter. New fuel rods should for it Not be used. Both plants should be available by mid-April. It should end for them after that too. For the winter of 2023/24, the Ministry no longer considers such an operating reserve necessary.

When and under what circumstances will the reserve be used?

Several measures are aimed at ensuring sufficient electricity, for example better use of power plants and power lines. Only if all this is not enough to avert a supply crisis should both nuclear power plants be restarted. The ministry speaks of an “emergency operation” to “defend a specific threat to security of supply”.

The baseline scenarios assume, inter alia, that: coal-fired power plants then they are no longer able to produce as much electricity as they can no longer obtain enough fuel due to the persistently low water level. It is also assumed that many other power plants in Germany and France are not available. At the same time, the model assumes intensive use of heaters and an extremely high gas price.

Would there be enough staff for the reserve?

It has been known for many years that the end of 2022 is actually the end. Companies have been preparing for this for a long time. In late July, EnBW CEO Frank Mastiaux said there were retraining or early retirement plans for more than 700 employees working at the operating power plant. EnBW is the operator of the Neckarwestheim nuclear power plant. EnBW and Eon, operator of the Isar 2, now want to check that the operation of the reserve is “organizational” feasible. There is probably also a staffing issue behind the wording.

How much does a reserve operation cost?

The department calls the costs of providing personnel and technology “manageable” without giving an exact amount. These costs are to be reimbursed to operators by the state. Consumers should not be burdened with this. If the nuclear power plant goes back to the grid, everyone “random winnings“- it means high profits, which result from very high electricity market prices as a result of the gas crisis – as well as” shifting away “with other power plants. With the so-called money Electricity price brake be financed, which aims to reduce the price of electricity to basic consumption.

What about security?

According to the Nuclear Energy Act, the Periodic Safety Review (PSÜ), under which nuclear power plants are intensively tested over many months, usually has to be carried out every ten years. The last PSÜ for three reactors took place in 2009. The test, which was actually scheduled for 2019, has been suspended due to a shutdown date on December 31, 2022.

Even before the announcement of the results of the stress tests, the Federal Office for the Safety of Nuclear Waste Management warned that the reactors could continue to operate “with undetected deficits” if extended. The state and society would have to decidewhether they want to bear the risk of a catastrophic accident for energy production”, According to the Federal Office.

The Plant and Reactor Safety Society (GRS), asked on Tuesday, assumed that nuclear power plants would be “safe” or “safe enough” after the end of 2022. Because in addition to the PSR, nuclear power plant operators would have to “constantly check all safety-related facilities”, explains GRS Managing Director of Technical and Scientific Affairs Uwe Stoll. The technical facilities will be checked weekly, annually or at longer intervals. According to Stoll, the PSR is not primarily used to identify possible safety damage, but rather to compare the current state of the plant with the current state of science and technology.

Why should the Emsland nuclear power plant in Lower Saxony not be part of the reserve?

Habeck argues that southern Germany has fewer alternative nuclear power plants than in the north. His ministry points out that less electricity is produced from renewable energy sources such as wind and sun in the south, but important industrial centers are in great demand there. There are also no network connections in Bavaria. On the other hand, in northern Germany, floating ships with oil power plants should be used to cover any gaps.

The network operators who conducted the stress test commissioned by the ministry came to a different conclusion than Habeck. They would advocate all three other nuclear power plants keep running. Vice-chairman of the EU parliamentary group Jens Spahn (CDU) mentioned that the nuclear power plant in Emsland should not be included in the reserve following the state elections in Lower Saxony on October 9. The head of the Greens, Ricarda Lang, did not agree with this – in ARD “Mittagsmagazin” argued that security of supply is particularly problematic in southern Germany.

Is the reserve sufficient?

no According to the electricity grid operator stress test, the three remaining German nuclear power plants may continue to operate in critical situations in the electricity grid make only a limited contribution – and only two of them should go to the reserve.

To stabilize the grid, three power plants would reduce the need to balance power plants abroad by only 0.5 gigawatts in a so-called “very critical” scenario, transmission system operators in Berlin said on Monday. Even then, overseas requirement would still be 4.6 gigawatts. Such balancing plants can supply the German market with short-term electricity to compensate for network bottlenecks.

The ministry emphasizes that if all three nuclear power plants were to completely burn out their fuel elements, there would be only slightly less electricity in the gas-fired power plants. The quantity in Germany is 0.9 terawatt hours, which corresponds to approximately one thousand German gas consumption.

That’s why Habeck is calling still save energy. He also wants to further remove obstacles to greater use of renewable energy, and his house sent proposals to other ministries on Tuesday.

Back-up power for two German nuclear power plants: here are the reactions

From praise to harsh criticism: Reactions to Habeck’s announcement that the two nuclear power plants would be operational by next spring have provoked different reactions. Robert Habeck announces the public consensus to abandon nuclear energy despite all security threats. The operation of two nuclear power plants has no noticeable impact on the security of supply and does not take the burden off the citizens. The low benefit to the stability of the power grid also does not justify keeping a reserve of nuclear power plants, ”criticizes Olaf Bandt, president of the German Association for Environmental Protection and Nature (BUND).

He also warns: “The assessment lacks a decisive worst case scenario: a superclusterFrom the BUND’s point of view, the decision on the nuclear power reserve “is not a contribution to the solution of the energy crisis, but a purely political motivation to reassure EU parties and the small FDP coalition.”

German head of Greenpeace, Martin Kaiser, also criticized on Twitter: “In deciding to reserve two nuclear power plants, the green federal economy minister Habeck, of all people, is announcing a hard-won social consensus. This is unacceptable and prevents the necessary energy transformation – especially in the south. “

On the other hand, energy expert Volker Quaschning believes: “Including two # nuclear power plants in the emergency reserve is one thing and only turning them on in an absolute emergency. a good solution to minimize security threats to Germany“.

Due to the standby operation of nuclear power plants in southern Germany, many experts criticize the slow expansion of renewable energy, especially in Bavaria, which made it a necessity in the first place. For example, says prof. dr. Manfred Fischedick, scientific director at the Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy in Wuppertal: “The recommendation to move two southern German nuclear power plants to back-up operation is not surprising and is due to the risks associated with on-site deliveries, but also in particular with slow implementation of the energy transformation“. An example of this is the low expansion of wind energy in Bavaria and the resistance to the development of appropriate power lines.

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