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Germany decides to phase out nuclear power plants at the end of 2022
Will there really be no electricity from nuclear power stations in Germany in 2023?
has made a significant course correction in its energy
politics. On 30 June 2011, the German parliament passed a law which
regulates that at the end of 2022 the last nuclear power stations in
operation have to be shut down. As a first step, the oldest eight
reactors were taken off-line immediately. In further steps, more
nuclear power plants will be decommissioned in two-years-terms
beginning in 2015. This all comes as a reaction to the disaster in
the Japanese nuclear power station Fukushima Dai-ichi caused by an
and tsunami on 11 March 2011.
With this decision, the German government revoked the prolongation of the operating times of its nuclear power stations which had been adopted by the political majority in the parliament eight months earlier.
The future of the nuclear energy has always been controversially debated. In the 1970ies, citizen's initiatives began protest actions against the expansion of nuclear power. In 1980, the Green party of Germany was founded which made the nuclear phase-out to one of its most important goals. Some time later, the Social Democrats, now out of government, became more and more influenced by green ideas and on a party conference in 1986, the party voted for a shut-down of the nuclear power plants within some years. But this party had to wait until 1998 to form the government and they did so with the Greens. The red-green majority tried to find an understanding with the nuclear power producing industry. In 2000, an agreement was made by the government and the companies which included a limitation of the operating time of the power plants. Each plant was granted a certain amount of energy to be produced. In general, this limitation meant an average operating time of 32 years. One has to know that in Germany, the last nuclear power plant was put on stream in 1989. Christian Democrats and Liberals opposed this decision and called for longer service times of nuclear power plants. These parties suggested that Germany's reactors were safer than those in other countries and that there were not sufficient alternatives for a reliable and competitive electricity supply. Since 2009, both parties are building the government again and on 28 October 2010 the conservative-liberal majority in the parliament voted for longer operating times of nuclear power plants. On an average, these times were lengthened for 12 years. In contrast, the decision of 30 June 2011 for an abrogation was supported by a great majority of Christian Democrats, Liberals, Social Democrats and most Greens.
When the catastrophe in Japan occurred, Christian Democrats and the liberal FDP had already lost the majority in opinion polls. The Green Party was said to be able to win more than 20% in a national election and a win of the Greens and the Social Democrats in the forthcoming state elections in Baden-Württemberg on 27 March 2011 was predicted. This might have been the political background when on 14 March 2011 chancellor Merkel announced a temporary suspension of the the extension of the nuclear power plants' operating time and the temporary closure of the oldest nukes. In addition, the government called for an Ethics Commission that should investigate the justification of the further use of nuclear energy and the reliability of alternative energy supply. During three months, all German nuclear power plants should have been checked intensively.
Although it is very unlikely that an earthquake or a tsunami like in Japan will ever happen in Germany, the conservative-liberal government became more and more opposed to the use of nuclear energy and finally proposed the phase-out of nuclear energy at the latest by the end of 2022. In the parliament, the Left Party was the only party that rejected this proposal and asked for an immediate closure of all nukes and an amendment to the constitution forbidding the use of nuclear energy.
The phase-out shall be accompanied by an increase of the renewable energies that according to the government's plans shall produce eighty percent of the electrical energy in Germany in 2050. Further on, massive investments in the grid are planned.
Details of the phase-out
It is the position of the federal government that not all nuclear power plants can be shut down at once without endangering power supply. So, only the oldest eight power plants have to stop the production of electricity now. Beginning in 2015 and continuing in two-years-steps, more power plants will be put away from the grid. Primarily each nuclear power station will be allowed to produce a certain amount of terawatt-hours and the time limits become only effective if a power plant has not exhausted the maximum amount of producible electricity. As a result, the amount of electricity guaranteed by the red-green majority in 2002 will be maintained and combined with a time limit for every plant. The electricity that every plant may produce corresponds with the normal electricity production in a 32-years-term. It is possible to transfer the guaranteed production volume partially to other power plants but this will not postpone the time-limit for the plant. It was possible that one from the eight power plants which had been shut down could have been kept as a reserve until the end of March 2013. The Federal Network Agency was allowed to arrange this until 31 August 2011 but on this day the authority renounced this because additional reserves in conventional power plants were found. (Source: press release of the Federal Network Agency of 2011-08-31).
Picture above: The nuclear power plant of Neckarwestheim. The reactor I (left) was shut down in March 2011. The reactor II, the youngest in Germany, has to end power production at the latest at the end of 2022.
|Name||Location||Closure at the latest||Begin of power production||Operator||Assured
amount of electricity
from 1 January 2000 in terawatt hours
|Biblis A||in the Hesse, on the River Rhine, southwest of Frankfurt||2011||1975||RWE||62.00|
|Biblis B||in the Hesse, on the River Rhine, southwest of Frankfurt||2011||1977||RWE||81.46|
|Neckarwestheim 1||in Baden-Württemberg, on the River Neckar, south of Heilbronn||2011||1976||EnBW||57.35|
|Brunsbüttel||in Schleswig-Holstein, on the River Elbe, northwest of Hamburg||2011||1977||Vattenfall||47.67|
|Isar/Ohu 1||in Bavaria, on the River Isar, northeast of Landshut||2011||1979||E.ON||78.35|
|Unterweser||in Lower Saxony, on the River Weser, southwest of Bremerhaven||2011||1979||E.ON||117.98|
|Philippsburg 1||in Baden-Württemberg, on the River Rhine, north of Karlsruhe||2011||1980||EnBW||87.14|
|Krümmel||in Schleswig-Holstein, on the River Elbe, southeast of Hamburg||2011||1984||Vattenfall||158.22|
|Grafenrheinfeld||in Bavaria, on the River Main, south of Schweinfurt||2015||1982||E.ON||150.03|
|Gundremmingen B||in Bavaria, on the River Danube, northeast of Ulm||2017||1984||RWE + E.ON||160.92|
|Philippsburg 2||in Baden-Württemberg, on the River Rhine, north of Karlsruhe||2019||1985||EnBW||198.61|
|Grohnde||in Lower Saxony, on the River Weser, south of Hamelin||2021||1985||E.ON||200.90|
|Gundremmingen C||in Bavaria, on the River Danube, northeast of Ulm||2021||1985||RWE + E.ON||168.35|
|Brokdorf||in Schleswig-Holstein, on the River Elbe, northeast of Hamburg||2021||1986||E.ON + Vattenfall||217.88|
|Isar/Ohu 2||in Bavaria, on the River Isar, northeast of Landshut||2022||1988||E.ON||231.21|
|Emsland||in Lower Saxony, on the River Ems, in Lingen||2022||1988||RWE + E.ON||230.07|
|Neckarwestheim 2||in Baden-Württemberg, on the River Neckar, south of Heilbronn||2022||1989||EnBW||236.04|
When the first German law on the use of nuclear energy
was adopted in 1959 there was a wide consent about
this new method of power production which had relied on hard coal and brown coal. Already in 1954 commercial power production began by the use of nuclear fission in the Soviet Union, in 1956 in Calder Hall in England. The plants of that time like the first German nuke in Kahl on the River Main showed only moderate capabilities compared with the possibilities of the present time. The first bigger nuclear power plant in Germany was Gundremmingen A which began service in 1967. One year later came the plant Lingen, 1972 a reactor in Stade on the River Elbe and 1975 the reactor Biblis A in the highly populated Rhine-Main-area.
The 1970ies and the 1980ies were years of a massive expansion of nuclear energy that reached approximately one quarter of the national electricity production in Germany. But this country never relied entirely on nuclear energy like neighbouring France, where around 80% of electricity derives from nukes. Since 1989 no new power plant has been inaugurated in Germany. The last new plants were Neckarwestheim 2 (April 1989), Emsland (June 1988) and Isar/Ohu (April 1988). Also in the 1970ies a protest movement against nuclear energy began. Accidents like the one in Three Mile Island in March 1979 cast a bad light on this new industry. In many places citizen's initiatives were created and mass demonstrations against planned reactors were organized. Another remarkable phenomenon was the foundation of the Green Party of Germany in 1980. Three years later, it was elected into the national parliament. In August 1986, the Social Democratic Party, now in the opposition, gave up its support for nuclear energy and called for a phase-out within some years. This turn was certainly but not only influenced by the nuclear catastrophe of April 1986 in Chernobyl. This was also one reason for the creation of the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Protection and Reactor Safety. Before this, more ministries were responsible for these subjects.
First consent on the further use of nuclear energy and lengthening of the operating time
The red-green government sought to find an agreement with the nuclear energy producing firms. The result was a declaration both signed on 14 June 2000 by the government and the firms which included a limitation of the operating time and a guarantee of quantity of energy producible by every plant. The assured quantities were equivalent to the average power production in a 32-years-time. The quantities were transferable. These regulations became law in 2002. Before this, the operating licenses were not limited. The Grand Coalition of Christian Democrats and Social Democrats that came out of the national elections 2005 could not find a common policy on nuclear energy and so the regulations adopted three years before were kept.
The elections of 2009 were won by the Christian Democrats and Liberals. Both parties soon started attempts to allow the longer use of nuclear power plants. On 28 October 2010 the German parliament adopted a new law which heightened the amount of producible electricity by every plant. This was preceded by an agreement found by the government and the nuclear industry on 5 September 2010. On average, the now allowed additional quantities corresponded to power produced in 12 years (8 years for plants which began operation until 1980 and 14 years for newer plants). Further on, a taxation on nuclear fuel was introduced. The project also contained the establishment of a special fund which should be fed by the extra profits caused by the longer operating times. The revenues of the auctions of greenhouse gas certificates and the revenues of the taxes on nuclear fuel should also flow into this fund (as long as the revenues from the taxes exceed a certain level). The capital of this fund should be used for additional programs for energy efficiency, renewable energies, new technologies for the storage of energy, grid technologies, and climate and environmental protection.
There are severe concerns about the lengthening of the operating times because the federal government did not asked the expressed consent of the Bundesrat for this project. The Bundesrat is the representation of the 16 German federal states and Conservatives and Liberals had no majority in this constitutional organ whereto every law has to be brought after it is adopted by the parliament, the Bundestag.
Picture above: This plant was built to serve as a heavy breeder reactor in Kalkar in North Rhine-Westphalia. Not all bold projects of the nuclear technology have been realised in Germany.
Nuclear projects in Germany that were planned but not realized
Some projects of the German nuclear energy have not been realized or have simply failed to exist for a longer time. These projects do not only include the reactors of Wyhl, Mülheim-Kärlich or Würgassen but also a fast breeder reactor, a nuclear reprocessing site and a thorium high-temperature reactor. The nuclear power plant in Wyhl (near Freiburg in the Southwest of Germany) was not built due to the decision of the court of first instance. Massive protests with a temporary occupation of the building site influenced the operator to give up the project. The power plant of Würgassen on the River Weser in the East of North Rhine-Westphalia was put from the grid prematurely in 1994 after 19 years of service because serious fissures were discovered and a repair would have been uneconomical. The nuclear power plant of Mülheim-Kärlich was forced to stop production in 1988 after a one year's service because one regulatory approval was missing. A new administrative procedure would have been necessary which should have included an investigation on the effects of a possible earthquake.
Another project not realized was the nuclear reprocessing site in Wackersdorf in Bavaria. Heavy protests and judicial difficulties made the realization more difficult. In the end politicians decided to give up the project and to carry spent nuclear fuel to the sites in La Hague (France) and Sellafield (England) for reprocessing.
An accomplished heavy breeder reactor in Kalkar on the River Rhine northwest of Duisburg may be an example for a stranded investment that costed billions of euros. The reactor was finished in 1985 but never produced power for the public grid. Additional security requirements made the project more and more expansive. Quarrels between the social-democratic government of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia and the conservative federal government foiled the starting of power production and in 1991, the project was abandoned.
Until today there is no concept on the final disposal of highly radioactive waste in Germany. A definite decision on this subject has not yet been made. One possible solution could perhaps be the salt dome in Gorleben in the Northeast of Lower Saxony. The exploration was stopped by the red-green majority that prescribed the construction of interim storages around the nuclear power plants. There are no more transports of spent nuclear fuel from German power plants to recovery plants in England since mid-2005. The moratorium on Gorleben was lifted by the new conservative-liberal government in October 2010. On 9 April 2013, the federal government, the 16 German states and the political parties found a compromise on the handling of this question. A bill for the procedure of choosing a suitable location passed the German parliament on 28 June 2013. All political groups in the parliament except the party "The Left" supported the proposal. A committee of 33 persons shall work out proposal until 2015, members of the German parliament shall have no voting right. There will be no further transports to Gorleben, the exploration works there will be stopped. Highly radioactive waste deriving from Germany and still deposited abroad shall be removed to other interim storages than Gorleben. The compromise does not contain a preliminary decision for or against a special location. A final decision on a suitable place shall be made until 2031.
Nuclear energy in the former German Democratic Republic (East Germany)
Power production in East Germany's first nuclear reactor of Rheinsberg began in 1966 at a moderate extent. From 1974, the much more bigger plant of Lubmin near Greifswald at the Baltic Sea started service. There eight reactors were planned, but only six accomplished and only five were connected to the grid. After the fall of the Berlin wall all reactors were shut down because they did not meet Western safety standards.
Risks of a nuclear phase-out, reactions to the decision of 30 June 2011
One of the risks of a nuclear phase-out in Germany is that the price for electricity could climb because the farewell to the nuclear energy is combined with a massive support for the renewable energies. The compatibility of the German industry on a global market could be endangered. Electricity prices in Germany are already the second highest in the European Union (see below). On the other hand, energy supply companies could buy cheap electricity made in coal or power plants around Germany which would undermine the political decision on a phase-out.
According to the Association of the Bavarian economy (vbw, Vereinigung der Bayerischen Wirtschaft e.V.) the phase-out will cause costs of 335 billion euros until 2030. Hereby the government's plan to increase the part of renewable energies in the electricity production up to 35% until 2020 and to 50% until 2030 is being used. (Source: press release of vbw of 2011-07-26). The German Institute of Economic Research (DIW Deutsches Institut für Wirtschaftsforschung) estimates costs by the phase-out of 35-74 billion euros, depending on whether nuclear power plants should be more replaced by coal-fired power plants or gas power plants. The institute indicated that already during the three-months-moratorium of spring 2011 the power price climbed by 10% on the wholesale market. If this price maintains at this level even consumers will feel the rise. The state will miss some tax revenues because the profits of the electricity producing firms will decline due to switched-off plants and higher costs. In addition, the tax on nuclear fuel and profit recoveries from the prolongation of operating times will fall away, the institute says. (Source: press release of the DIW of 2011-06-27). The association of high energy-intensive industries of Germany VIK (Verband der Industriellen Energie- und Kraftwirtschaft) told the public that the consequences of the change in energy politics can already be felt. The electricity price for commercial end users will rise by 9% in 2012. Frequency fluctuations and millisecond power failures happen more often, the VIK says. Although private households are not been affected, these irregularities have influence on complex production lines. (Source: press release of the VIK of 2010-10-19).
The German trade union DGB (Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund) sees great chances for the industry, craft and commerce with the phase-out. Apart from the renewal of conventional coal and gas plants a rapid development of the national and local grid, unbureaucratic procedures and innovative financing solutions are essential. Until 2030, industrial and trade establishments cannot be operated only by wind or solar energy, the union says. (Source: press release of the DGB of 2011-07-15).
Most German environmental organizations feel disappointed by the German parliament's decision of 30 June 2011. They wished a shut of all reactors much more earlier than 1 January 2023. The immediate closure of eight old reactors is only a stage win, the Union for the environment and nature conservation Germany (BUND, Bund für Umwelt und Naturschutz Deutschland) says. The protest against nuclear energy will continue until the last nuclear plant has been shut down. The decision of the German Bundestag only postpones the phase-out of a dangerous technology, it cements the power of the nuclear industry and it delays the energy change. Who now wants a fast extension of renewable energies has to put nukes from the grid, must not built new coal-fired power plants and must be committed to lower energy consumption and to a decentralized energy production, the BUND stated. (Source: press release of the BUND of 2011-06-30).
Every day with atomic energy is one too much - these were the words Greenpeace used for expressing its dissatisfaction. A quicker phase-out until 2015 is realistic and feasible without big difficulties. The organization also calls for an amendment to the German constitution. Greenpeace cites the ethics commission that has come to the conclusion that a total phase-out is possible within a decade but that this should not be understood that the phase-out shall not come earlier than ten years. According to Greenpeace the longer operating times mean 2,200 tons high-radioactive material which corresponds to 230 CASTOR containers. (Source: press release of Greenpeace of 2011-06-30). In July 2012, Greenpeace presented a study carried out by the German Institute for Economic Research which came to the conclusion that the nuclear phase-out would not necessarily mean higher electricity prices. The wholesale price will rise only minimally if the phase-out is accompanied by a more efficient use of energy. If these measures are realized and emissions trading remains on a moderate level one kilowatt hour will be sold for 0.051 euros on the electricity market in the year 2020. This will be the same price if nuclear power plants are not shut down and no optimization of energy use is pursued. Ten years later, the price would be 0.065 euros. (Source: press release of Greenpeace of 2012-07-03).
Picture above: The nuclear power plant of Cattenom in France, not far away from the German border
electricity produced in Germany?
The shares of different energy
sources in electricity generation in
Germany in 2014 (provisional figures, partly estimated):
Picture above: The lignite power plant of Niederaußem west of Cologne. The share of lignite in power generation in Germany is higher than the share of hard coal or nuclear energy.
Picture above: Wind power plants near Oesterwurth in Schleswig-Holstein
Picture above: Open-pit mining of lignite in Hambach west of Cologne. In contrast to brown coal (lignite), hard coal is being extracted by tunnelling in the Ruhrgebiet and in the Saarland. German hard coal cannot compete with coal from abroad without subventions. This support will run out in 2018 and means the end of hard coal mining in Germany. Lignite is a domestic energy source that is not subsidized. In general, it is only be used for power generation. The big disadvantages are the high exhaustion of carbon dioxide and the utilization of land which forces people to give up their homes. But exhausted open-pit-mines will be renaturalized.
On 30 June 2011, the German parliament did not only vote to give up nuclear energy but also some other important decisions in relation with the phase-out were made.
Extensive revision on the Renewable Energies Act
It is the wish of the German federal government to increase the share of renewable energies in electricity generation up to at least 35% in 2020, 50% in 2050, 65% in 2040 and 80% in 2050. Much of the development should be done by offshore wind power plants. The energy concept of the government foresees offshore wind power plants with an installed capacity of 25 gigawatts until 2030.
The emission of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide should be reduced by 40% until 2020 and by 80% until 2050 compared with 1990.
The general principles of the law will be maintained (priority intake of renewable energy, fixed prices for renewable energy, obligation for connection of renewable energies to the grid and the expansion of the grid). The new law contains a market premium (Marktprämie) and a flexibility premium (Flexibilitätsprämie). The first one has to be paid by the grid company if the power producer sells the electricity directly on the market and the latter one is paid for the provision of additional power by a biogas plant. The market premium is the monthly difference between the price paid according to the previous system and the average price reached by direct marketing. The flexibility premium is only for biogas plants that provide additional energy if the entire electricity is sold directly. In general, there is a new concept for the remuneration of biogas at a lower level.
Expansion of the electric grid
The German extra high voltage grid and the high voltage grid should be expanded fast. The Federal Network Agency will be charged with the examination of territorial impacts and with the plan approval of power lines of European or nationwide significance. The connection of offshore wind power plants to the grid will be a duty of the network operators, the costs will be taken into account with the price for the use of the grid. Power lines of the voltage level of 110 kilovolts should generally be laid underground. Communities should receive a compensation up to a certain level if their territory is being affected by important power lines.
Unbundling of grid companies
The companies that operate the electric grid should be strengthened. In general, these companies are part of a group of companies working in the energy branch. It is the goal of the new regulations that the grid companies become more independent from the producers of electricity. A state certification of network operators is planned. Further on, the different network operators should cooperate more with each other. There are also some regulations for consumers: A conciliation board will be created and electricity bills have to be more transparent and understandable. The change of a power provider should be done within three weeks beginning with the enrolment at the new supplier. The combined heat and power production will be supported also for plants built after 2016 and until the end of 2020.
Another law strengthens the aspect of climate protection in the public building law.
A project for the tax funding of energy rehabilitation measures has been stopped by the Bundesrat, the representation of the 16 German federal states. Any law adopted by the parliament, the Bundestag, also has to pass through the Bundesrat. In contrast to the quarrels about carbon capture storage a compromise could not been found. The proposal contained a tax relief for measures that reduce significantly the energy consumption of buildings built before 1995.
Picture above:The phase-out of nuclear energy and the increase of the renewable energies in power generation demand a modernization and expansion of the electric grid
Picture above: Solar panels. The share of solar energy in the power generation in Germany has climbed significantly.
Picture above: The barrage of Rothenfels on the River Main was completed in 1937 and does not only serve for the regulation of the water level but also for power production. Two turbines have an installed power of 4.2 megawatts.
|Embedded video of
about nuclear phase-out
(from the Deutsche Welle in English):
(Video at Youtube)