The government decides to send two nuclear power plants into reserve and to start them up again in an emergency. One of the operators says that doesn’t work at all. Now two questions arise: Who is right? And how can such a communicative disaster come about?

Since ancient Greece, it has been part of democracy that arguments stand against arguments in the political arena and voters consider which one is right or who they trust more.

But what is currently happening around the nuclear power plants is almost unprecedented and makes many people shake their heads. As a reminder: Federal Minister of Economics Robert Habeck presented his nuclear power plant plan on Monday.

It states that all three nuclear power plants remaining on the grid in Germany should no longer produce electricity from January 1, 2023, but that the two nuclear power plants Isar 2 and Neckarwestheim can be started up again if necessary in quasi reserve mode.

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So the ball was in the hands of the operators of the two affected nuclear power plants. The operator of Neckarwestheim has so far held back in the debate: after the coalition committee had reached an agreement on the nuclear power plant reserve operation, EnBW had announced that it would have to examine the feasibility of this idea.

Preussen-Elektra boss Guido Knott reacted immediately on Monday in a letter to the ministry, which ended up in the media.

The operator of Isar 2 described the Federal Minister of Economics’ plan as “technically unfeasible and therefore unsuitable for securing the supply contribution of the systems”. This is all the more true if the plant were to be shut down completely, as Habeck’s plan envisages.

The Eon subsidiary states that it informed the ministry on August 25 that “flexible raising or throttling of the output is no longer possible” in a nuclear power plant.

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They also refuse to start up the nuclear power plant again if necessary. Preussen Elektra has no experience with such an approach and will not try it now.

“Testing a start-up procedure that has never been practiced before should not coincide with a critical condition of the power supply,” writes Knott. The statement surprised him, replied Habeck.

He had heard that differently from Eon. On Wednesday evening, Habeck was upset at a meeting of the Bundestag committee on climate protection and energy: “Eon apparently did not understand what the proposal was.”

The public is left puzzled. Point one is the question of whether the Isar 2 nuclear power plant could be started up again after it had been shut down. According to experts, this point is actually tricky: From the reactor theory point of view, ramping up to stretching operation is basically feasible.

But every nuclear power plant is different and there is currently no objective authority that can provide final information as to whether it would be possible to start up from idle mode at Isar 2.

Safety systems could be necessary, which have to be approved by the responsible approval authority, which would definitely take too long for the purpose of emergency operation.

Even without these extensive safety precautions, the ramp-up would take “at least a week, maybe longer” for technical reasons alone, says Uwe Stoll, technical and scientific director of the Society for Plant and Reactor Safety.

“You have to say goodbye to saying on January 15: I need it on January 20, it won’t work that way.” According to Stoll, it would be possible to decide in November whether the nuclear power plants can continue to run in stretched operation from January. Closely related to this is point 2, namely profitability.

What is certain is that stretching operation is only economically worthwhile if it seamlessly follows full-load operation. According to experts, every month of downtime, and that is Robert Habeck’s plan, costs around 40 million euros.

It is currently not known whether the taxpayers or the power plant operators will bear the costs. Accordingly, one must also classify the – to put it mildly – defensive attitude of the operators of Isar 2.

The third and probably decisive point in the dispute is another one: do the two nuclear power plants have to be started up and shut down again at all? Preussen Elektra assumes so, but the Federal Ministry of Economics says that the concept of the emergency reserve “in no way envisages repeated ramping up and shutting down of the plants”.

Rather, the plan is to decide, when more is known, whether nuclear power plants are needed to secure the energy supply or not. “That will be decided in December, January or February.”

If you take the opinions of experts together, the assessment is quite clear: it would be much cheaper and easier to continue running the power plants directly from January 1st. In terms of safety, none of the experts at the two nuclear power plants have expressed concerns, on the contrary, they would be among the safest in the world.

Irrespective of the question of whether Habeck or the Isar 2 operator is right: It is very unusual for such a discussion to be held publicly at this point in time. Such technical questions are usually clarified before the government makes decisions and makes them public.

Although the traffic light coalition met at the weekend during the night, one can assume that the operators can always be reached at such moments.

Accordingly, speculation arises that there was a disagreement between Preussen Elektra and the Ministry of Economic Affairs – or a misunderstanding that should not exist in matters of such importance.

Meanwhile, the debate in the German Bundestag continued on Thursday. It was precisely in this mixed situation that the debate on the budget of the Ministry of Economics was pending. A welcome opportunity for CDU leader Friedrich Merz to describe Habeck’s nuclear power plant plan as “madness”.

He in turn replied that Merz was making a “sound of self-criticism”: “Dear Mr. Merz, the Union has ruled this country and many federal states for sixteen years. Sixteen years of energy policy failure. And in a few months we will clean up what they screwed up, prevented and destroyed in sixteen years.”

He also announced comprehensive help for German companies. International companies in particular demand the cheapest possible electricity.

The contribution “Nuclear confusion: who is right, Habeck or the nuclear power plant bosses?” comes from WirtschaftsKurier.