Nuclear power: nuclear power plant repair needs: is the emergency reserve plan on the brink?

Actually, the criticism of Robert Habeck's (Greens) planned nuclear power plant reserve operation just seemed to subside - then this: The Bavarian nuclear power plant Isar 2 must be repaired by October at the latest due to an "internal valve leak" in order to be even eligible for reserve operation from January get.

Nuclear power: nuclear power plant repair needs: is the emergency reserve plan on the brink?

Actually, the criticism of Robert Habeck's (Greens) planned nuclear power plant reserve operation just seemed to subside - then this: The Bavarian nuclear power plant Isar 2 must be repaired by October at the latest due to an "internal valve leak" in order to be even eligible for reserve operation from January get. Another construction site for the ailing Green Economics Minister. A "new twist" for the Federal Environment Ministry. Is the entire reserve operation model now on the brink?

What the "leakage" means technically

The Federal Environment Ministry states that it learned of the need for repairs in the Bavarian nuclear power plant Isar 2 "in the past week". Habeck's ministry: "This is a new issue that only emerged in discussions with the operators on September 13 and had not yet been included in the stress test." What is meant is the stress test for the power supply in the event of energy bottlenecks, on the basis of which the ministry made the decision on the nuclear power plant emergency reserve a few weeks ago.

Why the problem that has now arisen is so delicate: If Isar 2 were to go offline on December 31 of this year, as originally planned, the valve damage would no longer have to be repaired. However, if the nuclear power plant is to be suitable for continued operation until mid-April 2023 (reserve operation), as announced by Habeck, repairs are mandatory. And not just at the end of the year, but very soon in October. To do this, the plant is said to have to be idle for around a week. According to the operator, a later period for the decommissioning would not be possible in view of the possible emergency reserve. In other words: A speedy decision about the repair must be made.

What does that mean politically?

According to Habeck, the Isar 2 and Neckarwestheim piles should be available as an emergency reserve from January to mid-April to produce electricity if the worst comes to the worst. This may be necessary when winter is harsh and energy consumption is high. But now that Isar 2 has to be repaired and can only be started up once more, the plan is on the brink. The small valve increases the pressure on Habeck: In fact, if the pile is to be started up again after the repairs, it must remain connected to the grid over the turn of the year. Only the Neckarwestheim kiln would be available as an optional emergency reserve. It could be shut down at the end of the year and then brought back online when needed.

The repair costs

There is also the question of costs - even if those involved do not want to address them openly at first. Will the federal government have to pay for the repairs to the Isar 2 leak? And wouldn't it then be the only consequence to definitely leave the nuclear power plant connected to the grid after December 31 - simply because of the additional costs incurred for the state? Questions that the Ministry of Habeck would have to answer. On Tuesday, a spokeswoman only referred to "constructive discussions" that are currently being held with the operators.

Critical moment Bayern

Environment Minister Lemke doesn't quite want to believe that Bavaria's authorities didn't know about the worn-out valve earlier and criticizes the actions of the local environment minister Thorsten Faithr from the Free Voters as "dubious". Lemke is also targeting CDU leader Friedrich Merz and Bavarian Prime Minister Markus Söder (CSU). You both looked at the reactor, so the question arises whether you simply didn't mention the problem at your press conference on August 4th. In addition to the FDP and AfD, the Union in particular is loudly calling for the continued operation of the current nuclear power plants. There has never been any mention of imminent valve repairs. But what also belongs to the truth: The Isar-2 operator Preussen Elektra is not obliged to report the damage to the federal level.

In Bavaria they play the ball back even more violently. Habeck has to say "now, hop or great" about the extension of the term, urges Bavaria's Deputy Prime Minister Hubert Aiwanger (free voters). His fellow party member, Minister for the Environment, Glauber, agrees. "It finally needs a decision by the federal government and no more tactics." It is now becoming apparent that the idea of ​​a cold reserve from January to April is not a good solution.

The Bavarians also do not accept the accusation of withholding information. According to Söder's state chancellery, it has only been known about the defective valve since Monday - from the media. According to the Ministry of the Environment, the country's nuclear supervisory authority is continuously informed about the condition of the power plant. This also includes the use of components that wear out when used as intended. However, there was no specific information from the operator about the valve in question.

The situation in the Neckarwestheim nuclear power plant

The leak in the Isar 2 nuclear power plant also inevitably raises the question of whether the incident could also be repeated in Neckarwestheim - which according to the federal government should also be available as an emergency reserve nuclear power plant after December 31st. The operator of the pile in Baden-Württemberg waves it away: Block II of the Neckarwestheim nuclear power plant underwent “a regular, around three-week annual inspection” in June 2022. Since the restart, the reactor has been "in trouble-free power operation," it says on request. It remains to be seen whether this will remain the case. The fact is: A relatively harmless valve problem could still become a political meltdown for Habeck.

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