According to new calculations, the costs of extending the lifetime of the nuclear power plants would bear no reasonable relation to the benefit. Because it would replace only one percent of natural gas requirements. The debate is therefore “disproportionate”, says the board of the eco-energy cooperative Green Planet Energy.

An extension of the service life for the last three German nuclear power plants beyond 2022 would save only one percent of natural gas consumption in Germany. This is shown by new calculations by the analysis institute Energy Brainpool on behalf of the eco-energy cooperative Green Planet Energy. The savings potential would also be even lower if the nuclear power plants had to be temporarily shut down or throttled for technical reasons. “In the threatening gas crisis, relying on longer nuclear lifetimes as an antidote would be nothing more than a drop in the ocean,” criticizes Sönke Tangermann, CEO of Green Planet Energy. “The effort, costs and risks of extending the term bear no reasonable relation to the benefit.”

Various political actors are currently bringing an extension into play, and the Union parties want to submit a corresponding application to the Bundestag next Thursday. So far, however, it was unclear how great the benefit of longer nuclear power plant runtimes would be as a substitute for natural gas. According to the energy market models presented by Energy Brainpool, the continued operation of the three remaining German nuclear power plants Isar II, Neckarwestheim II and Emsland would only have a minimal effect, because gas-fired power plants primarily cover peak loads in the electricity market and are only rarely used. In addition, gas-fired power plants are often used in the heating sector and do not adapt their production to the electricity market. Overall, the savings potential for gas through changes in the electricity market is low for these reasons.

According to the calculations, a total of 875 terawatt hours (TWh) of natural gas were consumed in Germany in 2020. If all three nuclear power plants were allowed to continue running in 2023, they could together save a maximum of 8.7 TWh in natural gas consumption, which corresponds to one percent of the assumed annual consumption. With two nuclear power plants, it would still be a maximum of just under 5.5 TWh or 0.6 percent. According to Energy Brainpool, if only one of the nuclear power plants remained in operation, the effect would be reduced to 3.1 TWh or 0.4 percent of the amount consumed in 2020.

“We calculated with the historical availability of the nuclear power plants, against the background of such a short-term extension, this is a best-case scenario,” adds Fabian Huneke, energy expert at Energy Brainpool. “If the nuclear power plants produce less electricity overall, the savings potential is of course also reduced.”

The three nuclear power plants that are still in operation have been in operation since 1988 and 1989, so in the coming year they will have been in operation for 34 and 35 years respectively. Continued operation beyond the end date of 2022 specified in the nuclear phase-out would be associated with high costs, since the reactors not only lack uranium fuel, but also personnel and important safety checks. The probability of temporary shutdowns or throttling increases with the years of operation.

“The discussion about extending the lifetime of nuclear power plants is disproportionate when you consider that this would achieve very little. If we really want to make significant gas savings, we have to do so in the heat sector,” concludes Sönke Tangermann. “In particular, there are a number of gas-fired, heat-controlled power plants, such as combined heat and power plants, in which electricity is not produced in a demand-oriented manner. Significantly more gas can be used here than by extending the lifetime of nuclear power plants, which is now unrealistic anyway,” says the Green Planet Energy board.