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Plant operations

In 2012, we operated the plants in the RWE Group largely without any breakdowns. We also ensured that all our power stations complied with the statutory emission limits virtually without exception. Any breaches of these emission limits were restricted to individual cases and were minimal. They did not result in any offences and no harm was caused to humans or the environment. The most significant event in 2012 was a fire at the Tilbury power station operated by RWE npower in the United Kingdom. (see below)

Operation of our nuclear power stations

Independently of the cuts caused by shortening the service lives for nuclear power stations in Germany under the 13th amendment of the German Atomic Energy Act, we are making the safety of our nuclear plants stations a top priority. This applies to the three power stations currently in operation at the Gundremmingen and Emsland and the two Biblis units which have lost their licence to generate power with the shortening of their service life. The stable platform for safety assessments is based on the results of operational monitoring, the routine cyclical inspections (including several thousand inspections of safety systems carried out on each unit every year) and the measures involved in preventive maintenance at our plants. The maintenance and expansion of a high level of safety is assisted by the assessment of events in other German plants and in the nuclear power plants across the world for transferability and relating to potential for optimisation. This high level of safety was confirmed for our plants following the result of the national safety review by the Reactor Safety Commission and within the international framework in the so-called EU stress test that was carried out in the wake of the Fukushima reactor catastrophe.

The Federal Ministry for the Environment and the states established new safety requirements for the operation of nuclear power plants in November 2012. We will cooperate closely together with the responsible state authorities to review whether this nuclear regulatory framework requires further effective safety optimisation action to be taken for the plants still in operation that are reasonable in the light of the service lives. We will also examine what form any such optimisation should take. The regulatory framework also takes account of the experiences after the reactor accident at Fukushima. For example, we carried out optimisations on the operating plants to further improve the emergency electricity supply when experiencing extreme impacts due to natural conditions.

In 2012, we registered 24 events notifiable to the authorities, whereas there were 28 such events in the previous year. These events were at the lowest level on the international Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale (INES). INES 0 represents an event without or with minimum importance in safety and engineering terms. There were no incidents with a higher classification. The officially approved, derived values and the dose limits defined in the Radiation Protection Directive for all employees exposed to radiation in the course of their work were complied with at all the nuclear power stations in the year under review 2012.

Shutdown and radioactive waste

After the decision to phase out nuclear power, the Biblis A and B units were immediately switched off and applications to shut down and dismantle the units were submitted to the Hessian licensing authority in August 2012. An environmental impact assessment forms part of the licensing procedure. On 22 January 2013, we consulted with the government agencies and associations involved at a scoping meeting and defined the scope of the inspections required. The effects resulting from dismantling the units will be analysed with particular reference to the impacts on the environment. The Biblis nuclear power station will continue to be operated safely during the post-operational phase and preparations will be made for shutdown.

Decommissioning of the shutdown nuclear reactor at Mülheim-Kärlich continued according to plan in 2012. The Rhineland Palatinate held a public information event in 2012 in relation to a further dismantling licence. We expect a licence to be granted during the course of 2013. We held talks with potential investors in 2012 relating to industrial downstream use of parts of the site. The first approvals for use of some of the land under the atomic regulatory framework have already been granted or are currently passing through a licensing process. The Lingen nuclear power station shut down in 1977 has already entered so-called “safe confinement”. The dismantling of the plant is due to be started when the licence is granted under atomic legislation in the course of 2013.

The disposal of radioactive operating waste (low-grade and medium-grade radioactive waste) and interim storage of the spent fuel rods (highly radioactive waste) is carried out under the supervision of the responsible authorities. Radioactive operating waste is transported to the officially licensed storage site at the sites themselves or at other central storage locations. The authorities are informed about the quantities of waste and the location of radioactive operating waste every year. At present, the Federal Republic of Germany still has no final repository ready to accept low and intermediate level radioactive waste. We are assuming that the Konrad final repository currently being constructed for disposal of low and intermediate level waste will be available at the end of this decade. We are basing plans for all decommissioning projects on this assumption.

Spent nuclear fuel rods from current plant operations initially remain in cooling ponds before being stored safely over the medium term in Castor storage containers in conformity with nuclear regulations on the site of the power station until a final repository has been provided.

In 2012, we used a total of 64.1 metric tons of nuclear fuel in our three nuclear power stations, whereas 77 metric tons were used in the previous year. The importance of uranium as an energy source is declining with the decision by the German government to exit nuclear power. The supply for our nuclear power stations is guaranteed until the shutdown dates defined by the government.

Fossil-fired power stations

Our fossil-fired power stations operated without any significant operational breakdowns in 2012. However, a major fire occurred at the Tilbury power station (United Kingdom). The coal-fired power station was previously converted to combustion of biomass (wood pellets). On 27 February 2012, twelve weeks after operation started up, a major fire broke out in the wood-pellet bunker for boilers 9 and 10. This was brought under control on the same day. The emergency plans for the site proved to be very effective and were appropriate. Nobody was injured. The fire also resulted in no breaches of wastewater threshold limits or other consequential damage to the environment.

We operate our conventional power stations within the framework of the statutory emission values which are defined by the European Directive on Large Combustion Plants. This directive permits much higher emissions for old plants in the United Kingdom, which only have a limited operating period, than for other plants. In the United Kingdom, we have therefore generated twice as much electricity from hard coal in accordance with the market conditions compared with the previous year. This included the old power plant Didcot A which is scheduled to be shut down at the end of March 2013. Within the framework of a general increase in electricity generation from fossil fuels, this contributed significantly to an increase in emissions (key data tool). The Industrial Emissions Directive (IED) of the European Union was enacted in 2011 and will be important for the future operation of our thermal power stations. Most of the emission limits under this directive will have to be complied with from 1 January 2016. The IED regulates a number of issues including the emission limits of SO2, NOx and dust emissions. The goal of the directive is to achieve greater standardisation in Europe and align the industry with the best available technology in each case. The directive is currently being implemented nationally in the relevant member states. RWE will implement the tougher requirements defined by the IED with state-specific reference to the individual power stations.

In Germany and the United Kingdom, we have cooperated with government agencies in implementing three specific aspects of the IED: compliance with emission limit values and limited life operation (opt-out) and the transitional national plans for the new IED.

Upgrades at most of our German power stations are not necessary, because our plants are generally speaking already able to comply safely with the values introduced with implementation of the IED in the Bundesimmissionsschutzrecht (Federal Air Pollution Protection Act).

The British government intends to implement the Directive fully in the United Kingdom, and to provide power-plant operators with the options either to comply with stricter emission limit values, to operate for a limited life (opt out) or to participate in the Transitional National Plan. However, the Government does not intend to go beyond the requirements of the Directive. RWE is continuing to work with Government and Regulators to reach a decision about the compliance options in terms of shutdown or upgrade for each of our power stations before the directive comes into force.

We have a modern power-station portfolio in the Netherlands. Our plants also meet the stricter Dutch IED requirements that come into force from 2016. We only have to upgrade two smaller power stations there in order to meet the stricter emission limits for NOx emissions from 2016. The requirements of the IED Directive are also complied with in Hungary.

Hydroelectric generation

RWE Innogy operates 46 hydroelectric stations in Germany with installed power of 377 MW. Some of the weirs constructed in rivers have to be adapted to accommodate various species of migratory fish such as eels or salmon. We have therefore made our contribution towards protecting the fish population at 76% of our run-of-river power plants and created passages for the fish in the form of semi-natural bypass streams or alternatively technical fish-ladder systems to allow the fish to swim around the barriers without incurring any hazard.

RWE Innogy is carrying out further technical innovations and R&D projects. Examples of this are basic research into the migration habits of fish at hydropower stations (project “EtWas”, for a period of three years, project volume €420,000, part financed by RWE Innogy, part-financed by the state of North Rhine-Westphalia at 65%), and the creation of an innovative and patented passage through sediment to solve the problem of sedimentation and to improve watercourse ecology. The findings from these projects will enable us to carry out further environmental protection measures at our plants in the future.

Wind energy

The installation phase for the ‘North Sea East’ offshore project was launched in autumn 2012. Various noise-abatement measures for protecting marine species are used in order to collect experience on the optimum technology. The use of an appropriately dimensioned pile driver and a large bubble curtain are combined and overseen by an efficiency monitoring system. Alongside sound measurement, this monitoring also includes an online-based real-time recording system that detects porpoises when they are approached. Using this recording system we are able to determine at which point we have to adopt selective protective measures in order to reduce the impact on porpoises to a minimum during the course of installation activities.

We are unable to reliably maintain the target emission limit of 160 decibels at a distance of 750 metres from the sound source when carrying out heavy pile-driving activities. However, the tests performed and the research carried out using this data create a valuable platform for achieving this ambitious objective.

Grid operations

We continued to protect birds at our transmission lines in 2012. Apart from collision protection markings in the sections of lines carrying high voltages, most of the masts supporting medium-voltage lines are fitted with electric-shock circuit breakers through prevention of bridging across transmission lines. We had implemented all the key measures in Germany by the end of 2012. In Hungary, we also concluded the national ‘Clear Sky Agreement’ in 2008. Our aim is to equip all our distribution grids there with measures to protect birds by 2020.

We want to supplement passive protection of birds by building up the populations of large endangered species. Our companies in Germany and Hungary are focusing on establishing nesting sites for storks, as well as sites for birds of prey.

We are passing on our knowledge about proven technologies to an international forum in a project with UNEP and AEWA (international environmental and bird protection organisations). These include, for example, using helicopters to install bird protection markings on transmission lines. During the past two years, we also presented our experience in protecting birds at two international conferences in Bergen (Norway) and in La Rochelle (France). Marking measures have already been instituted in the Netherlands and we have received a concrete inquiry from Israel on this issue. Nature conservation projects have a long tradition in our business.

Major nature conservation project in the Donauwald region - hydropower plants operated by the Bavarian electricity company BEW (only German)
Various nature conservation projects – enviaM (only German)

The operation of our distribution networks also requires comprehensive preventive measures to protect the soil against contamination from the primary hazard caused by leakage of transformer oil. The storage containers (e.g. oil and petrol tanks) all have double walls and our relevant operating materials are therefore equipped with appropriate collector trays which are monitored and regularly serviced.

Malicious damage perpetrated on transformer stations is a problem in Hungary, particularly in connection with metal theft. We have always carried out a comprehensive clean-up operation to eliminate any resulting contamination. However, we are attempting to limit the number of incidents by cooperating with the police and technical protection measures and reduce the damage over the long term.

Oil and gas production

Water and soil conservation are the key environmental aspects in oil and gas production. We operate the Mittelplate drilling and production platform in Germany surrounded by the Wadden Sea. This is a World Natural Heritage site and subject to special environmental protection. Overall, 7.1 hectares of areas operated by RWE Dea are located directly in conservation areas. A further 2.7 hectares are adjacent to conservation areas.

For the past 25 years, we have been extracting oil in the German Wadden Sea without any incidents, an area which was declared a World Natural Heritage site in 2009. We have been carrying out work to preserve stability around the Mittelplate over recent years in order to be able to continue safeguarding smooth-running operation with no incidents in future. This necessitated work on building up the tidal flats with so-called scour protection (protection against erosion). The aim is to restore the habitats in the bordering coastal areas with the aim of mitigating this intervention following significant changes caused by human impacts. The effectiveness of the restoration measures will be monitored over a period of several years by a programme agreed with the authorities:

Mittelplate drilling and production platform

The clean-up measures for the soil contamination discovered in 2011 at the natural-gas field in Völkersen, Lower Saxony, were continued in 2012. As a precaution, we immediately shut down the entire pipeline system used for conveying water at the storage facility (around 22 km) and completely emptied it.

The findings up to May 2012 indicated that there was no hazard to the human population or to animals at any time and this continues to be the case. Virtually no contamination with benzene occurred in the air, surface waters and soil, though there was minor pollution in a few isolated cases. Some benzene concentrations occurred in the groundwater close to the surface in specific sections of the pipeline where the soil was saturated with groundwater (some 8 km), and a clean-up operation was required here.

As a result, we first started to dismantle the entire pipeline in September 2012. This measure will be completed in 2013. Secondly, a clean-up operation for the groundwater has been ongoing since May 2012 involving the injection of air using the air-sparging procedure that has been successfully applied in other clean-up operations, and the situation is being continually monitored. We are continuing the keep the affected residents informed about the background situation and latest developments through direct communication and on a dedicated website.

Citizen’s information portal Völkersen (only german)