The Nuclear Energy Debate: What a “Stretch Operation” Means

The Nuclear Energy Debate: What a "Stretch Operation" Means


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By: 07/25/2022 5:26 pm

The Traffic Light Alliance is discussing the service life of nuclear power plants. The term “stretching operation” is used again and again. What does that mean – and what are the consequences?

Christian Schaff, ARD Capital Studios

According to the Nuclear Energy Act, Germany will become a nuclear power-free country by December 31. The federal government is examining whether the three nuclear reactors that produce electricity beyond this date should be kept running under what is known as extended operation.

Three reactors, Eiser 2, Neckarvestime and Emsland, still produce six percent of Germany’s electricity.

Time extension – no extra electricity

In the absence of nuclear power plants, this amount should compensate for the rapid expansion of gas or coal-fired power plants or renewable energy. If that is not possible, nuclear reactors can generate electricity in winter and thereby contribute to the energy supply.

For “extended operation” to be possible, nuclear reactors must adapt to the remaining nuclear fuel in their reactors. This means that electricity generation has to be reduced to make the fuel last longer. Therefore, “extended operation” would lead to a longer period of nuclear power generation – but not to additional amounts of electricity.

Who bears the liability?

However, there are high barriers to continued operation of the reactors. On the one hand, comprehensive security testing of systems is outdated: usually, they are subjected to comprehensive security testing every ten years, which can take several months. However, the last tests on the three systems that are still operational were 13 years ago.

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Given the shutdown date of 2022, the safety inspection originally scheduled for 2019 did not proceed. It is questionable whether a new deadline for a so-called periodic safety review can be extended again.

Also, operating companies of nuclear power plants do not want to take any liability for accidents from January 1. It is not yet clear whether the federal government will assume this responsibility in the future.

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