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German Nuclear Plants Could Run Through Winter, Lobby Group Says

(Bloomberg) -- Germany’s last few remaining nuclear reactors could keep operating through the winter even though they are poised to close permanently by the end of this year, according to industry group Kerntechnik Deutschland.

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It’s possible that the three plants could generate power until spring in what’s known as ‘stretch-out mode’ that allows them to run at a reduced capacity, according to the lobby group. That way, they won’t need new fuel supplies and would provide an alternative to increasingly scarce natural gas.

“It’s not too late to keep the nuclear plants running for winter or to keep them running for a longer time,” said Nicolas Wendler, a spokesperson for Kerntechnik Deutschland said on Monday in an interview.

The option could potentially sway German politicians to extend the lives of the units as the energy crisis may only get worse with demand peaking during the winter. Germany’s environment minister and member of Green Party, Steffi Lemke, signaled she’s willing to consider extending the operating life of an EON SE plant in Bavaria into next year to boost much-needed supplies.

Nuclear power accounted for about 12% of the nation’s electricity last year, according to research group Ember. EON said the government has made a decision not to extend the nuclear plants and that the company won’t speculate on developments in policy. The other operators, RWE AG and EnBW Energie Baden-Wuerttemberg AG didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Germany Has Three Months to Save Itself From a Winter Gas Crisis

While a short-term extension could provide extra power supplies this winter, it could also open the door to longer term operations but a decision needs to be made quickly with new fuel supplies taking about 12 months to secure, according to Wendler.

On the other hand, if Germany delayed the exit for a few years instead of a few months, the utilities could secure supplies now to keep the units running during the winter of 2023-2024.

Decommissioning Plan

Germany has been preparing to phase out nuclear power completely since it passed a bill in 2000 that tied the end of atomic power to the rise in renewables. That decision helped fund the growth of solar and wind power that was key to making those technologies cheaper than fossil fuels in most of the world.

But the nation’s dedication to exit nuclear is so strong that even after Russia restricted natural gas supplies, politicians first opted to increase dirty coal power capacity ahead of any commitment to extend nuclear.

While the technology could help keep the lights on in Germany this winter, it won’t do much to lower the cost of electricity, according to BloombergNEF.

“An extension of nukes will only have marginal impact on power prices as coal will continue to sit on the margin in Germany throughout winter during the current market conditions,” said BNEF analyst Kesavarthiny Savarimuthu. “But an extension will be more helpful from the energy security perspective - to shave power sector gas consumption.”

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