The reports on events surrounding the final nuclear phase-out have put Economics Minister Robert Habeck under pressure. The accusation: In his ministry, decisions were made ideologically rather than based on expert assessments. The former chairman of Eon’s supervisory board can understand the criticism of Habeck.

Mr. Kley, the magazine “Cicero” has published documents that are intended to prove that, contrary to his public assurance in spring 2022, Economics Minister Robert Habeck did not examine the question of the continued operation of nuclear power plants with an open mind. Although you left Eon twelve months ago, you were chairman of the energy giant’s supervisory board at the time. What do you think of the conclusions of “Cicero”?

Karl-Ludwig Kley: What “Cicero” found out doesn’t surprise me. It corresponded and fully corresponds to my perception.

What is your perception based on?

Kley: From my observations in 2022. I’ll give you an example. On March 7, 2022, the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and the Federal Environment Ministry published a so-called test note on the basis of which they could not recommend an extension of the operating life of the nuclear power plants. In summary, it says that, firstly, their 4.4 gigawatts of power plant output would not make a relevant contribution to the energy supply. And secondly, due to the regulatory and technical obstacles, extending the term is not possible at all. With all due respect, both are nonsense.

How come?

Kley: 4.4 gigawatts is an extremely relevant amount. For example, this would have reduced CO2 emissions from coal-fired power plants by at least 15 million tons. And the electricity costs would also have been lower. Nuclear power plants produced electricity for just under two cents per kilowatt hour (kWh), gas power plants, with certain fluctuations, for around ten times as much. If that’s not relevant, I don’t know what is.

But what about the regulatory and technical obstacles?

Kley: Here too, only as an example and in brief. The claim that additional amounts of electricity could only be produced with fresh fuel rods was not true. Operation in the winter of 2022/23 could take place without fresh fuel elements – which is what it did during the three-month extension. Operation for a few more months would have been possible, at least at the Isar nuclear power plant, with a newly assembled reactor core. And then new fuel elements would have been available. Another example: The ministries considered a so-called periodic safety check to be absolutely necessary. I see it completely differently. Any security risks would be discovered immediately during the continuous checks that are ongoing anyway. Both relevant representatives of the Society for Plant and Reactor Safety and the TÜV Association agree with me; So I’m in good company.

Didn’t you tell the ministries that?

Kley: And yes. Eon had a very clear position. That meant: The decision to keep nuclear power plants running is not a technical question, but a political one. Technically, Eon would make everything possible, but the political decision would have to be made solely at the federal government level. The sooner it fell, the better it would be. Because Eon would not make advance payments. This position was communicated many times to the ministries involved.

But not loud enough, right?

Kley: You definitely have a point. There was a similar situation again in autumn 2022, when a so-called stress test was carried out for the power supply. It showed that the nuclear power plants were still needed. Of course, the Ministry of Economic Affairs didn’t like the result. They then turned the corner with the concept of nuclear power plants as an operational reserve, i.e. turning them on or off as needed. But a nuclear power plant is not a toaster. Since the ministry couldn’t be talked out of this idea, they had no choice but to write a letter. Then the plan was quickly scrapped. And Mr. Habeck later explained that Eon had simply misunderstood his idea. Oh well. Eon should have written more letters. The representatives of the energy industry as a whole should have positioned themselves more clearly in the political discussions instead of hastily avoiding possible conflicts.

What now?

Kley: The issue of nuclear power is probably over in Germany for now. I personally think this is irresponsible given the combination of the war in Ukraine, the economic crisis and the energy transition. But that’s just the way it is. We should definitely remain active in research when it comes to nuclear power. Of course, no one can know whether modular reactors, next-generation pressurized water reactors or the so-called dual fluid reactors are good solutions for the future. We also don’t yet know when and how nuclear fusion can make a contribution. But we definitely have to stick with it. Anyone who excludes technologies from the outset is gambling away the future.

Do you have any advice for Mr. Habeck?

Kley: That’s not my place. What I don’t understand, however, is why he doesn’t simply say that he absolutely doesn’t want nuclear energy. And that’s why consent to continued operation was never an option for him. That would be the truth. And then he wouldn’t have to interpret all possible emails and protocols up and down.

(The interview first appeared on ntv)

The article ““With all due respect, that’s nonsense”: Now the nuclear manager is dishing it out against Habeck” comes from WirtschaftsKurier.