Germany keeps two nuclear reactors on standby to weather gas crisis

Economy Minister Robert Habeck says the move doesn't mean Berlin is reneging on its promise exit nuclear energy by the end of 2022

German Economy Minister Habeck walks past Greenpeace activists holding a banner that reads 'Nuclear power? Not one day longer!' as he arrives for a news conference. — Reuters
German Economy Minister Habeck walks past Greenpeace activists holding a banner that reads "Nuclear power? Not one day longer!" as he arrives for a news conference. — Reuters

By Reuters

Published: Mon 5 Sep 2022, 10:24 PM

Germany plans to keep two of its three remaining nuclear power stations on standby, beyond a year-end deadline to ditch the fuel altogether, to ensure it has enough electricity through the winter as it faces a gas supply crunch.

German Economy Minister Robert Habeck said in a statement on Monday that the move did not mean Berlin was reneging on its long-standing promise to exit nuclear energy by the end of 2022.

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

“It remains very improbable that we will have crisis situations and extreme scenarios,” Habeck said. “I have to do everything necessary to fully guarantee security of provision.”

The move is especially hard to swallow for Habeck’s Greens, which grew out of the 1970s anti-nuclear movement, although the exit was initiated by former conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.

The Greens and other opponents of nuclear energy regard it as a high-risk technology generating radioactive waste that would remain a burden on future generations.

While all three of Germany’s remaining nuclear reactors would still close by December 31, 2022, the southern plants Isar 2 and Neckarwestheim 2 would remain in reserve for any emergency, until mid-April next year.

Both plants have a 1,400 megawatt (MW) capacity and are operated by E.ON and EnBW respectively.

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

“We have to prepare for the worst,” he told a news briefing. “The plants will only reopen when more power is needed.”

Asked why the government did not opt for longer operations of the plants to help cap runaway power prices, he said it had responded with a levy on power producers that would help shield consumers by redistributing power profits.

Berlin was also taking measures to ensure power supply such as resurrecting some idled coal-fired power stations and boost grid capacities, he said, adding that Germany’s electricity supply was usually very secure and it was a power exporter.

However, it was part of a European system that had been hit by a French nuclear power squeeze and a drought that curbed hydroelectric production and cooling water supplies to thermal power stations as well as hampering barge deliveries of coal.

By the winter of 2023/24, Germany would have extra gas import capacities in the form of floating storage and regasification units (FSRUs), the government said.

The north of Germany, where the third remaining nuclear reactor, Emsland, is situated may be able to operate oil-fired electricity generation capacity if needed, it added.

More news from Energy