Germany keeps two nuclear power plants available as backup and burns coal as it faces energy crisis caused by war and climate change


An aerial view shows the Isar nuclear power plant, including the Isar 2 reactor, on August 14, 2022 in Essenbach, Germany. Isar 2 is one of the last three working nuclear power plants in Germany and all three are expected to be closed by the end of this year. However, due to the disruption of energy imports from Russia, politicians and other actors are debating extending the operational life of the plants. Some argue for an extension until mid-2023, others argue for longer. About 80% of those surveyed among the general public support some form of expansion.

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German lawmakers announced Monday that they will burn coal and keep two nuclear power plants available as a last resort to get through the winter.

“The major crises – war and climate crises – have a very concrete effect,” he said Robert Habeck, the federal minister of economy and climate protection, in written statements published on Monday. (The statement is in German and CNBC used Google to translate it into English.)

The German government has announced its plans to keep the Isar 2 and Neckarwestheim nuclear power plants, both of which are in the southern part of the country, in a sort of backup state, available only if the country has no other option, as announced the results of his second network stress test, in which German officials calculate his energy needs based on a number of possibilities.

This second network stress test focused on the winter season from 2022 to 2023, when energy demand is higher as people and businesses need to heat their homes.

The Federal Ministry of Economy and Climate Protection said in its written statement that “hourly crisis situations in the electricity system” this winter are “very unlikely, but cannot be completely ruled out at this time”.

The war in Ukraine has affected Germany’s ability to manage its energy supply, as Germany is heavily dependent on natural gas exports from Russia. Gazprom, the major state-owned Russian energy giant, said Friday that it would not reopen the Nord Stream 1 pipelinethe main route to supply Europe with natural gas, as maintenance work is required.

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In addition to the shortage of natural gas, summer heat waves and an ongoing drought have also disrupted energy sources.

“The summer drought has lowered water levels in rivers and lakes, weakening hydroelectric power plants in neighboring countries and also making it difficult for us to transport coal to the power plants we need to use due to the tight gas situation,” Habeck said. . .

Germany’s European neighbors are also struggling to meet their energy needs. About half of France’s nuclear reactors have been taken offline as the country struggles to keep up with aging plants. reports the New York Times.

Neckarwestheim nuclear power plant. In view of the war in Ukraine and looming gas shortages, German lawmakers are keeping two nuclear reactors, including the Neckarwestheim nuclear power plant, on call until April 2023.

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Germany said its membership of the European Union is part of the rationale for its decision. “We have enough energy in and for Germany; we are an electricity exporter. But we are part of a European system and this year is a special year across Europe,” said Habeck.

Germany has also struggled to ramp up renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar, and build new transmission lines.

Even if Germany chooses to give itself the option to turn to the two southern nuclear power plants, Germany will not change its long-term goal of shutting down all nuclear power in the country. The announcement is a stopgap solution for the country, similar to the proposal California is currently pursuing to keep its last working nuclear reactor, Diablo Canyon, online.

“Nuclear power is and will remain a high-risk technology, and the highly radioactive waste will burden tens of generations into the future. You can’t play with nuclear power,” Habeck said in the statement. “A general life extension would therefore not be justified in view of the safety status of the nuclear power plants. With the operational reserve, we take into account the risks of nuclear technology and the special situation in winter 22/23. That way we can act if the worst happens.”

Although Germany has a clear aversion to nuclear power, nuclear power has historically been safer than burning fossil fuels. Lignite, coal and oil all have enormous amounts more deaths per unit of energy generated than nuclear energy.

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