The situation is clear for Markus Söder. In view of the acute lack of gas, all forms of energy should now be used. In addition to renewables, this also includes “absolutely nuclear energy,” explained the Bavarian Prime Minister this week. For example, the Bavarian nuclear reactor Isar 2 can be operated for half a year longer than planned. Söder accused the federal government that its refusal was not a technical but a political decision.
Shortly thereafter, it became known what Söder was basing his statements on: a report by TÜV Süd, commissioned by the Bavarian Ministry of the Environment. The paper that caused a stir in political Berlin on Friday is only seven pages long. In it, TÜV Süd was to assess whether it would be possible to leave the Isar 2 nuclear power plant on the grid longer than December 31, 2022 – the time when the last three nuclear power plants in Germany are to be shut down. In the report, which is available to the Tagesspiegel, TÜV Süd comes to the conclusion that “from a safety point of view” there are “no concerns”.
The report increases the pressure on the federal government. Because of the worsening gas crisis in Germany, there are repeated calls to let the last nuclear power plants in Germany run longer. Above all, the Union is putting pressure on. But there is also this demand from the FDP. From the point of view of the Greens, however, the topic is a “sham debate”. The continued operation of nuclear power plants would bring little, is also expensive and risky, party representatives emphasize again and again.
The publication of the Bavarian report coincides with the publication of a survey, according to which a majority of Germans think that the temporary continued use of nuclear power is the right thing to do. According to ARD Deutschlandtrend, 61 percent of those questioned supported the continued operation of nuclear power plants beyond the end of the year as proposed by the Union and FDP. The Union sees itself confirmed. “Scholz and Habeck must finally give up their ideological blockade. It doesn’t match the seriousness of the situation,” Jens Spahn, leader of the Union parliamentary group, told the Tagesspiegel.
What is interesting about the Bavarian report is that TÜV Süd wipes important safety concerns off the table. Actually, the remaining German nuclear reactors should have been subjected to a so-called “periodic safety review” in 2019 – a fundamental check that is due every ten years and lasts several years. But because the reactors are supposed to be shut down by the end of 2022 anyway, this was not done. This is one of the reasons why experts have a big stomach ache at the thought of simply letting the nuclear power plants continue to run. However, TÜV Süd is of the opinion that the necessary measures could be implemented during ongoing operations. Reactor safety experts consider this questionable.
The second relevant point is the fuel elements – Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz also refers to this when he rejects longer nuclear power plant operating times. During their inspections in March, the Federal Environment Ministry and the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs came to the conclusion that the fuel elements in the plants would be “largely” used up by the end of 2022. There is the possibility of “extended operation”: If the nuclear power plants were to be shut down in the summer of 2022, for example, the reactors could run around 80 days longer than planned in 2023. However, the two ministries came to the conclusion that extending the service life of German nuclear power plants “could only make a very limited contribution to the security of the power supply in Germany, and this at very high economic costs, constitutional and safety risks.” The extension of the service life is not to recommend.
TÜV Süd, on the other hand, writes that Isar 2 could remain online until August 2023. The reactor core is designed in such a way that “reactivity reserves” exist for 80 days. After that, the fuel elements could be reassembled into a new reactor core by relocating them, which would make power operation possible for three months. A total of around 5160 gigawatt hours of electricity would be generated by August 2023. According to the TÜV, if new fuel elements were ordered in good time, Isar 2 could even remain connected to the grid after this point in time. He also believes that block C of the decommissioned nuclear power plant in Gundremmingen in Bavaria can be restarted.
But is all of this a realistic option? The Federal Ministry for the Environment emphasizes that nothing has changed in the assessment. It also points to the legal difficulties. Even for the “stretching operation” a law to abolish the running time limit is necessary. The law would also have to stipulate that the legally binding declaration by the operator to finally shut down the plant at the end of 2022 is rescinded. The operator submitted this declaration in order to be able to operate these 13 years without a “periodic safety check” (PSÜ). “A further extension of this period beyond the EU safety directive (10 years) is hardly justifiable,” says the ministry. A PSR would also have to be carried out before a short extension of the service life.
Experts for reactor safety such as the Viennese scientist Friederike Frieß also say that after the reactor accident in Fukushima stress tests were carried out at all plants throughout the EU. Deficiencies were also found in the German piles, but these were not remedied because they were supposed to be taken off the grid in a timely manner. “If the nuclear power plants are to run longer now, new permits would actually have to be granted.”
From the point of view of politics, the question of extending the term is a question of weighing up. The Ministry of Economic Affairs and the Environment still does not consider the benefits of continued operation to be high enough to accept the costs and risks involved. The most recent debate hasn’t changed that.