Operator doubts German plan to keep nuclear plants on standby

Germany plans to delay closure of two nuclear power plants amid disruption to Russian gas deliveries to Europe.

Germany’s plans to delay the closure of two nuclear plants were thrown into confusion on Wednesday, with the operator of one saying the request to keep it on standby was not technically possible as the government said it had been misunderstood.

Berlin announced on Monday that it plans to keep two out of three remaining nuclear power stations on standby to have enough electricity through the winter.

The operator of one of the plants, E.ON, said on Wednesday that it believed it is not possible to put its Isar 2 facility in reserve mode beyond its scheduled closure at the end of 2022.

“We communicated on Monday evening that nuclear power plants are not suitable for reserve power plant operation for technical reasons,” said E.ON, adding it was in contact with the government on the issue.

EnBW, which operates the other plant, said it was also clarifying details and questions it had with the ministry and would respond to the suggested plans after looking at the technical and organisational feasibility.

German Economy Minister Robert Habeck said he was “somewhat bewildered” after receiving E.ON’s letter, which cast doubt on the plan’s workability.

Habeck said it seemed technicians at PreussenElektra, which is responsible for operating and decommissioning E.ON’s nuclear assets, did not understand that the plan did not involve turning nuclear power plants on and off repeatedly.

State Secretary Patrick Graichen of the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs said in a letter to E.ON, seen by the Reuters news agency, that it could not foresee what technical problems would arise from putting the plant on standby.

Either the standby proposal will be deemed necessary in December, in which case one or both reactors would remain in operation, or power stations could be restarted in January or February, said the letter.

There was no immediate comment from E.ON on the government’s remarks.

Russia halted the flow of gas to Germany last month, citing maintenance to the pipeline behind the stoppage.

Moscow blamed Western sanctions, imposed after Russian forces invaded Ukraine, for the maintenance. However, some European Union officials accused Russia of using energy as a weapon.

On Sunday, the German government announced a $65bn plan to combat soaring prices amid disruption in Russian gas supplies to Europe.

In January, the government called nuclear energy dangerous, objecting to EU proposals that would let the technology remain part of the bloc’s plans for a climate-friendly future.

Its energy plan before was to switch off its remaining three nuclear power plants at the end of this year and phase out coal by 2030.

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