Plea for nuclear power from a German and Bavarian point of view

_ Yuri Kofner, economist, MIWI Institute for Market Integration and Economic Policy. Munich, January 22, 2023.

Problems of the German energy transition

Short-term problems

According to a written question by the AfD parliamentary group in the Bavarian state parliament, a power shortage of 54 to 56 percent (6.7 to 7.1 GW) is to be expected in Bavaria in the winter of 2022/2023 due to the nuclear phase-out in the event of a gas shortage,[1] and, according to VBEW, with the result of a 40 percent undersupply of district heating.[2]

Leading German economic research institutes expect a gas gap for spring 2023 and winter 2024. The nationwide gas shortage in February 2023 could be over 160 TWh. The slump in added value added amount to over 280 billion euros, the German gross domestic product (GDP) would collapse by 10 percent, twice more than during the Corona lockdown crisis.[3]

The Bavarian State Ministry for Economic Affairs assumes that there will be a power supply gap of up to 91 hours in Germany.[4] According to the vbw, at least 40 percent of the Bavarian SMEs would be threatened in their existence by the gas shortage, which would affect more than 220,000 workers.[5]

According to BDEW, the price of electricity for household customers rose from 30 to 40 cents/kWh between 2019 and December 2022, and for industry from 18 to 55 cents/kWh. However, Germany already had the highest electricity prices in the world in 2019.[6]

Long-term problems

Even before the war in Ukraine, the German energy transition led to a worrying threat to security of supply and the highest electricity prices worldwide. A study by the Ifo Institute from 2020 predicted an annual average power shortage of 40 percent for Bavaria by 2025, and even of 80 percent in winter.[7]

The energy transition has failed and the extension of the service life of just three nuclear power plants until the end of April 2023 is by no means sufficient[8] to defuse the unprecedented gas bottleneck and thus the energy crisis, which is expected to last for several years.

This assessment is, e.g. also by experts such as the economist Dr. Daniel Stelter and Qatar’s Energy Minister Saad Sherida al-Kaab.[9]

The Energy Economics Institute at the University of Cologne (ewi) forecasts that gas prices in Europe will remain at a high level in the current decade: 66 euros/MWh in 2026 and 59 euros/MWh in 2030.[10]

Accordingly, the Institute for Economic Research (ifo) expects the German wholesale electricity price to triple in 2025 and double in 2030 compared to 2019.[11]

Advantages of nuclear power: re-entry and new generation

A return to nuclear energy in the course of this decade is therefore necessary and is already supported by more than two thirds of the German population.[12]

Closing the power gap

A runtime extension of the Isar II nuclear power plant could provide 1.5 GW and the reactivation of the NPP Gundremmingen C further 1.3 GW, or at least 75 percent of the stretching load.[13]

According to the grid operator’s stress test, the limited runtime extension of only 3 of the 6 available German nuclear power plants would still not be able to cover the load gap of 4.6 GW forecasted for the winter of 2022/2023. However, if all 6 remaining NPPs were on-line, including those that were decommissioned in December 2021 such as Gundremmingen C, then the expected load gap would be reduced to a manageable 0.5 GW.[14]


At around 27 euros per MWh with an extension of the service life, and 40 euros per MWh when new nuclear power plants are commissioned, nuclear energy is, after hydropower, the cheapest type of electricity generation in Germany.[15]

Environmentally friendly and CO2 saving

Alongside hydropower, nuclear energy is one of the safest and most environmentally friendly methods of generating energy. Fewer people die from accidents, there are fewer adverse health effects, less land use and less hazardous waste than any other production method.[16] Of all power generation methods, nuclear power has the lowest death toll per TWh of power generated.[17]

By extending the lifetime of nuclear power plants, Germany can save 1 billion tons of CO2 that it would otherwise emit through fossil backup generation.[18]

According to the IPCC (2014), the life cycle CO2 equivalent of a kilowatt-hour<ysay<yy<<<yax| from nuclear energy corresponds to that from wind energy and is 3.5 times lower than with photovoltaics.[19]

It is therefore to be welcomed that the European Commission classified nuclear power as sustainable in the EU taxonomy for sustainable finance in February 2022, thus ensuring planning security for investments in nuclear research and energy.[20]

An analysis of the previous decarbonization of national energy systems shows that nuclear power can be expanded fastest of all “climate-friendly” producers. Of the 15 greatest decarbonization successes in a decade, eight have been achieved thanks to nuclear power. According to this, nuclear power can be expanded around four times as fast as wind and solar combined.[21]

Global trend

In contrast to Germany, safe nuclear energy is considered a mainstay of their climate protection agenda in many industrialized countries. In 2020, several EU countries such as the Netherlands,[22] Sweden[23] and Poland[24] have decided to return to or develop nuclear power in their energy mix. France is clearly committed to preserving nuclear power, which accounted for 70.6 percent of French electricity generation in 2019.[25] Great Britain plans to build 15 mini power plants with a total capacity of 6 GW by 2030.[26] The incumbent US President describes nuclear energy as an important part of the US “Green New Deal” and national energy policy.[27]

New fourth-generation reactors are considered the safest in the world. They are already being used effectively in China and Russia.[28] In his analytical overview, Green Party researcher Florian Blümm shows that the storage of nuclear waste products is safe for hundreds of thousands of years.[29] In the case of reactors of the fourth generation and dual-fluid reactors, the supposed problem of disposal can also be avoided through technological advances in the recycling of used fuel rods.[30]

Feasibility of restarting

The second stress test by the Federal Ministry of Economics and Climate Protection in September 2022,[31] a special evaluation by TÜV Süd for the State Ministry for the Environment and Consumer Protection in April 2022[32] and the expert hearing in the state parliament in May 2022 show everyone that the lifetime extension of nuclear power plants is possible and necessary from a legal, technical, safety and economic point of view.[33]

Qualified and highly motivated staff is available nationwide, but would have to be brought to Bavaria from other locations and given additional training.

The periodic safety analysis (PSA) of the nuclear power plants is carried out annually. There is no unacceptable increased risk from the extension of the term.[34] The TÜV has already confirmed that it could also carry out the 10-year periodic safety inspection (PSÜ) of Isar II without any problems. And Kerntechnik Deutschland e. V. confirmed the safety of Gundremmingen C.

80 percent of uranium imports into the EU do not come from Russia, and 36 percent of EU fuel requirements are met by Sweden and Germany (12 percent). Until 1990, the GDR was the fourth-largest exporter of uranium.[35] In response to a question from MP Gerd Mannes (AfD), the StMWi allegedly supports the re-ordering of new core elements beyond the stretching operation in order to ensure the operation of the nuclear power plants for the winter of 2023/2024.[36] Since this procedure takes between 6 and 9 months and has to be approved by the respective ministries, the procurement of the fuel elements must be supported by the state as quickly as possible.

The extension of the service life of German power plants is supported by many well-known scientists, in particular by the signatories of the “Stuttgart Declaration” of July 2022.[37]

Although the Bavarian State Ministry for Economic Affairs had already promised in March 2022 to examine the possibility of reactivating Gundremmingen C,[38] the state government has apparently not taken any measures to stop the dismantling process of the nuclear power plant since then. Both a current statement by the operator RWE and information in social media indicate that the dismantling measures were not delayed by the state government and that the legal and economic framework conditions for a restart of Gundremmingen C would not be acceptable for RWE, if the prolongation would last only until mid-April 2023.[ 39] Preussen Electra, the operator of Isar 2, has repeatedly stated that it would prefer an extension of the service life by at least 3 to 5 years.[40]

Focus on research Research and development

A continuation and expansion of research and development as well as domestic expertise in the field of nuclear technology is therefore of crucial importance, not only as a basis for a possible return to CO2-avoiding nuclear energy, but generally as an important, versatile high-tech research area for medicine and space travel , agriculture, etc., and to keep Germany and Bavaria competitive with other innovative industrial locations.

In 2022, US President Joe Biden increased government spending on nuclear research programs by 85 percent to 1.85 million euros from an average of around 1 billion euros annually over the past decade, particularly for small modular reactors (SMR) and hydrogen production[41] which according to the International Energy Agency (IEA) are “research fields with great potential”.[42]

Even the EU has set up the Euratom research and training program worth 1.4 billion euros until 2025.[43]

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), annual spending on research and development for nuclear technology in Germany has fallen by 12 percent in recent years from USD 278 million in 2013 to USD 246 million in 2020, three times lower on average than France (USD 819 million), four times lower than the United States (USD 1 billion) and 4.5 times lower than Japan (USD 1.157 billion).[44]

The chair for nuclear technology at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) received only 25,000 euros a year between 2018 and 2020. The third-party funds raised each year were 11 times higher (286,000 euros), which shows that, despite the lack of state support, companies still showed great interest in nuclear research.

Irrespective of this, in May 2022 the Bavarian state government confirmed its alleged support for domestic expertise in the field of nuclear research “The field of nuclear technology covers a broader area than just that of nuclear power plants. Germany should (strategically) be able to retain the necessary knowledge to have a technically respected and influential voice internationally in this important area, […]”.[45]

Regrettably, as of 2018, there has not been a single separate item in the state government’s budget plans for funding education, research and development in the field of nuclear technology.[46]

Recommendations for action for the Bavarian state government

The Bavarian state government should work at all levels for the long-term extension of the service life of the nuclear power plant Isar II and the reactivation of the nuclear power plant Gundremmingen C, including ensuring sufficient specialist staff and new fuel rods.

The Bavarian state government should support the introduction and commissioning of new fourth or fifth generation nuclear power plants or “small modular reactors” (SMR) with a total capacity of 3 gigawatts in Bavaria by 2033 at . Appropriate laws must be introduced at federal level for this purpose.

The Bavarian state government should work at all levels to continue and expand the administrative and financial support for research and development, training and research cooperation in the field of nuclear technology in Bavaria.

There is a need to increase state financial support for nuclear research and development in Bavaria to 13.6 million euros annually, with special attention to: basic and applied research; the promotion of existing and establishment of new chairs, professorships and specialist training as well as new research centers and competence centers; construction of experimental fourth and fifth generation reactors; and supporting basic and applied nuclear research in the following areas: small modular reactors, dual fluid reactors, hydrogen production, heat production, nuclear waste treatment.

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