RWE will shut down several systems at the end of the year

As of: 12/30/2021 4:03 p.m.

As part of the statutory schedule, RWE will shut down three lignite plants at the turn of the year. Several German nuclear power plants are also being shut down. That is not enough for the BUND.

The coal and nuclear phase-out in Germany is making progress. At the end of the year, RWE is also shutting down Unit C of the Grundremmingen nuclear power plant, as well as three lignite plants in the Rheinische Revier. The 300-megawatt units Neurath B, Niederaußem C and Weisweiler E will be shut down, the Essen-based electricity company announced today.

“We are consequently continuing to implement the statutory phase-out of nuclear power and coal,” said RWE Power’s CEO, Frank Weigand. According to the company, the four affected power plant blocks have generated over 400 billion kilowatt hours of electricity since they began operating. This corresponds to the electricity needs of Berlin over 90 years.

Massive job cuts in the Rhineland

The shutdowns of the nuclear and coal-fired power plants with a total capacity of 2200 megawatts (MW) are being carried out within the framework of the statutory schedule. They were reported to the Federal Network Agency, said the energy supplier. In January 2020, the federal government agreed on a decommissioning path for all lignite power plants in Germany by 2038 at the latest with the affected lignite mining states (Saxony-Anhalt, Saxony, North Rhine-Westphalia and Brandenburg).

In February of this year, RWE finally signed a public law contract with the federal government, through which the legal regulations for the exit were also contractually stipulated. The next shutdowns will follow in 2022: According to the group, another 300 megawatt block will go offline in Neurath on April 1. At the end of the year, the two 600-megawatt blocks and the briquetting in the Frechen factory will be shut down at the same location. In addition, the company will shut down the Emsland nuclear power plant in Lingen. According to its own information, RWE will shut down power plants with a total output of more than 7,000 megawatts in the period from 2020 to 2022.

The company emphasized that this had a significant impact on the workforce. By the end of 2023, RWE Power will cut around 3,000 jobs in the entire process chain in the Rhineland, from opencast mining to maintenance and administration to power generation. At the Bavarian site in Grundremmingen, the last facility of the nuclear power plant, the boiling water reactor block C with around 1300 MW, will be shut down, according to RWE. The workforce will decrease from around 600 at the beginning of 2017 to around 440 at the end of 2022. The remaining employees would be busy with post-operation and dismantling of the site until the 1930s.

Dispute within the EU

Germany wants to phase out nuclear energy by the end of 2022. There are currently six nuclear power plants. On New Year’s Eve, in addition to Grundremmingen C with Brokdorf in Schleswig-Holstein and Grohnde in Lower Saxony, two other remaining nuclear reactors in Germany will go offline. The remaining three will follow in the coming year: the Emsland nuclear power plant in Lingen, the Isar nuclear power plant in Essenbach in Bavaria and the Neckarwestheim nuclear power plant between Heilbronn and Ludwigsburg.

At the same time as the shutdown in Germany, the EU Commission is preparing a decision as to whether nuclear power should be classified as a green technology. However, this is currently the subject of heated debate within the European Union. While Germany is pressing ahead with the nuclear phase-out and resolutely rejecting the classification of nuclear energy as a sustainable form of energy, France in particular is one of the supporters of such an assessment. Belgium has also softened the shutdown of its nuclear power plants planned for 2025 and wants to invest 100 million euros in researching new technologies. If the energy supply cannot be secured in other ways, the reactors should continue to produce electricity.

Federal Environment Minister Steffi Lemke (Greens) warned of a renaissance of nuclear power in Europe. “It is absurd how many unmet promises are currently circulating about possible new reactor types,” Lemke told the newspapers of the Funke media group today. In reality, there are more and more obsolete nuclear power plants in Europe whose continued operation is becoming more risky and which can only be retrofitted selectively, stressed the minister. “This problem pushes and belongs at the center of the debate, not fairy tales and myths about nuclear power plant concepts that solve neither the safety problems nor the repository issue.”

BUND describes nuclear phase-out as “incomplete”

The Bund für Umwelt und Naturschutz Deutschland (BUND) has also criticized the German nuclear phase-out as “incomplete” because of the continued operation of two nuclear factories beyond 2022. “We still haven’t got a complete nuclear phase-out in Germany,” said BUND chairman Olaf Bandt of the dpa news agency. Even after the nuclear phase-out planned for the end of 2022, the uranium enrichment plant in Gronau in North Rhine-Westphalia will continue to be operated. The same applies to the fuel element factory in Lingen, Lower Saxony, said Bandt.

“This means that Germany is part of the nuclear chain and supplies scrap nuclear power plants in other European countries with fuel elements. The new federal government must stop this and switch off the two nuclear facilities,” demanded the BUND boss. The plant in Lingen focuses its production primarily on the export of fuel elements – for example to Belgium. The uranium enriched in Gronau is also exported. The former Federal Environment Minister Svenja Schulze (SPD) had already warned that the German nuclear phase-out could only be completed if these two factories were also closed. “Our nuclear phase-out is not compatible with the production of fuel and fuel elements for nuclear facilities abroad,” Schulze said at the beginning of the year.

Environment Minister Lemke announced in response to a dpa request that she shared the opinion of her predecessor. “The solution preferred by the BMUV – a statutory shutdown of the two plants – did not find a majority within the government in the last legislative period,” it said. The ministry is now examining how to proceed on the basis of the coalition agreement. In the coalition agreement, the SPD, Greens and FDP explicitly commit to sticking to the nuclear phase-out. The contract does not contain details on how to deal with the said nuclear factories.

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