Nuclear power plant Isar 2: Let it continue "until this crisis is resolved"?
Armin Weigel / picture alliance / dpa
The last nuclear power plant in Germany is supposed to go offline at the end of the year, but electricity and gas prices are exploding – and Russia has severely reduced its energy supplies to Germany.
In this situation, there are more and more voices in politics and business in favor of extending the lifetime of nuclear power plants.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) has now also approved.
"If it's technically possible, they should continue to operate," said IEA boss Fatih Birol of the weekly newspaper "Die Zeit".
But how promising is the advance?
What does politics say?
Federal Finance Minister Christian Lindner has spoken out in favor of a debate about extending the lifetime of the nuclear power plants - and is thus putting the coalition partners SPD and Greens under pressure.
The Bavarian Prime Minister Markus Söder is also campaigning for an extension "until this crisis is resolved," as the CSU politician said.
Vice-FDP boss Wolfgang Kubicki told the dpa news agency: "It is urgently time to ensure the continued operation of the nuclear power plants for at least five years." In addition, the domestic resources of oil and gas should be used as quickly as possible instead of buying expensively abroad .
Chancellor Olaf Scholz rejects such demands.
The SPD politician refers to experts' statements that the fuel rods in the three remaining reactors would only last until the end of the year.
Federal Minister of Economics Robert Habeck has had an extension checked.
Conclusion of the Green politician: "As a result of weighing up the benefits and risks, an extension of the service life of the three remaining nuclear power plants is not recommended, even in view of the current gas crisis."
Which nuclear power plants are still connected to the grid?
Three plants are currently still running: Emsland in Lower Saxony, Neckarwestheim 2 in Baden-Württemberg and Isar 2 in Bavaria.
With a total output of 4300 megawatts, they cover an average of around 30 terawatt hours per year - around five percent of German electricity production.
Could nuclear power plants lead to gas dependency?
According to the Federal Ministry of Economics, longer lifetimes for nuclear power plants could only make a very small contribution to emancipation from Russian gas.
"We have a problem with the gas - and thus the heat supply, not with electricity," says a paper on the use of nuclear power in Germany.
In Germany, 12.5 percent of natural gas is used to generate electricity.
Gas-fired power plants are very flexible and are primarily used to be able to supply more electricity quickly during peak loads.
Nuclear power plants, on the other hand, produce electricity continuously and technically cannot replace what gas-fired power plants can do, as the Ministry of Economics explains.
Should the nuclear power plants continue to operate at all?
The end date of December 31, 2022 is set in Section 7 of the Atomic Energy Act.
The law would have to be changed.
In addition, the nuclear phase-out is regulated in government contracts with the operators, where data is also stored.
These too would have to be resolved and renegotiated.
The nuclear lobby, however, has no concerns.
An extension of the term by a few years would be legally permissible, the organization quotes the lawyer Christian Raetzke on its website.
"A law to extend the term - if the political will were to go in this direction - is possible and could be passed quickly."
Are the nuclear power plants safe?
The three plants are relatively young in European comparison, but a number of problems would arise if the service life were extended.
Since the operators assumed it would be out by the end of the year, maintenance intervals and safety checks are designed accordingly.
"There were certainly no more retrofits and no maintenance work," says nuclear expert Wolfgang Renneberg of the Reuters news agency.
He was formerly head of the reactor safety department at the Ministry of the Environment.
"There's definitely an investment backlog." Official reviews often took months.
E.ON boss Leonhard Birnbaum wrote this week in a letter to the employees of the nuclear subsidiary PreussenElektra that the operators have explained to the federal government that continued operation beyond the end of 2022 would be technically possible with certain efforts.
The federal government has examined the possible contribution of nuclear power plants and has come to the conclusion that nuclear energy should not be part of the solution.
The Federal Government is currently not planning any corresponding examination of possible extensions.
A spokesman for the ministry told the dpa news agency that the Ministry of the Environment was not aware of any further checks.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Economics also referred to the assessment of Federal Minister of Economics Habeck, according to which continued operation of the power plants beyond the phase-out date of December 31, 2022 would not be justifiable for safety reasons.
Would there even be enough fuel rods?
For economic reasons, the supply of fuel elements required for the operation of the reactors was designed for the end date.
So many would have to be replaced – and the reactor core would probably also have to be renewed.
This is closely monitored by authorities and could take more than a year.
Fuel elements have to be specially manufactured for the respective reactor and are not considered to be readily available.
Bavaria's head of government, Söder, had recently vigorously opposed this argument by the federal government - and had spoken of "technical nonsense".
Fuel rods can be obtained anywhere in the world, "all our European neighbors do it."
What do the nuclear power plant operators want?
The bosses of RWE, E.ON and EnBW have repeatedly spoken out against extending the running times in recent months.
RWE boss Markus Krebber considers the debate to be backward-looking, even in the current situation.
The corporations have long been on an ecological course and are happy to be rid of an issue that has divided society like no other for decades.
You are prepared to exit.
A spokeswoman for the E.ON subsidiary PreussenElektra says: "As a result, we no longer have the fresh fuel elements that would be required for operation.
And even the staff that we would need to operate our systems will no longer be available in sufficient numbers for high-performance operation after the shutdown.«
The nuclear phase-out was agreed by the end of 2022 after the Fukushima disaster.
Among other things, residual electricity quantities that may still be produced were agreed.
A termination would have to create new regulations here, at the same time it could revive the anti-nuclear movement.
In a so-called Atomic Commission, financial issues relating to interim and final storage were also settled.
The operators were largely released from their responsibility for a payment of 24 billion euros.
This is also based on the end of 2022 and would have to be partially renegotiated.
The federal government would probably have to bear any costs.
The same applies to the out-of-court agreement on compensation issues with RWE, Vattenfall, EnBW and E.ON.
Here, too, a package would have to be untied again.