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Nuclear Power in Germany

(22 January 2010)

  • Germany obtains one quarter of its electricity from nuclear energy, using 17 reactors.
  • A coalition government formed after the 1998 federal elections had the phasing out of nuclear energy as a feature of its policy. With a new government in 2009, the phase-out is on hold.
  • A compromise agreement was worked out in mid 2000 and signed into effect in 2001 to limit the operational lives of nuclear power plants to an average of 32 years, deferring any immediate closures. The question of life extension is now open, with 50-60 years expected.

Germany's electricity production in 2007 was 637 billion kWh gross, about 6300 kWh per capita. Coal provides about half of the country's electricity. Gas supplied 12%, wind 6% in 2007. Electricity exports exceed imports by about 15 billion kWh, but Germany is one of the biggest importers of gas, coal and oil worldwide, and has few domestic resources apart from lignite and renewables (but see later section).

The country's 17 operating nuclear power reactors, comprising 20.6% of installed capacity, supply about one quarter of the electricity (141 billion kWh net in 2008)*. Many of the units are large (they total 20,339 MWe), and the last came into commercial operation in 1989. Six units are boiling water reactors (BWR), 11 are pressurised water reactors (PWR). All were built by Siemens-KWU. A further PWR has not operated since 1988 because of a licensing dispute.

* here and in the Reactor Table we use IAEA figures, which we are told include only public utilities. The figure of 148.8 billion kWh gross, 23.3 % of electricity is given in AGEB Energieverbrauch in Deutschland im Jahr 2008.

Responsibility for licensing the construction and operation of all nuclear facilities is shared between the federal and Länder governments, which confers something close to a power of veto to both.

When Germany was reunited in 1990, all the Soviet-designed reactors in the east were shut down for safety reasons and are being decommissioned. These comprised four operating VVER-440s, a fifth one under construction and a small older VVER reactor.

In 2000 the European Commission approved the merger of two of Germany's biggest utilities, Veba and Viag, to form E.ON, which owned or had a stake in 12 of the country's 19 nuclear reactors then.

Germany has about half of Europe's installed wind generating capacity, amounting in 2005 to about 16% of its total capacity. This provided 4.8% of the electricity.

German nuclear power units

Plant Type MWe (net) Commercial operation Provisionally scheduled
2009 or 2011
total (17)

20,339 MWe

Nuclear power policy

German support for nuclear energy was very strong in the 1970s following the oil price shock of 1974, and there was a perception of vulnerability regarding energy supplies. However, this policy faltered after the Chernobyl accident in 1986, and the last new nuclear power plant was commissioned in 1989. Whereas the Social Democratic Party (SPD) had affirmed nuclear power in 1979, in August 1986 it passed a resolution to abandon nuclear power within ten years.

The most immediate effect of this change of policy was to terminate R&D on both the high-temperature gas-cooled reactor and the fast breeder reactors after some 30 years of promising work, since much of the work was in North Rhine-Westphalia, which was governed by the SPD. A Christian Democrat (CDU) federal government then maintained support for existing nuclear power generation nationally until defeated in 1998.

In October 1998 a coalition government was formed between the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the Green Party, the latter having polled only 6.7% of the vote. As a result, these two parties agreed to change the law to establish the eventual phasing out of nuclear power.

Long drawn-out "consensus talks" with the electric utilities were intended to establish a timetable for phase out, with the Greens threatening unilateral curtailment of licenses without compensation if agreement was not reached. All operating nuclear plants have unlimited licences with strong legal guarantees.

In June 2000 a compromise was announced which saved face for the government and secured the uninterrupted operation of the nuclear plants for many years ahead. The agreement, while limiting plant lifetime to some degree, averted the risk of any enforced plant closures during the term of the present government.

In particular, the agreement put a cap of 2623 billion kWh on lifetime production by all 19 operating reactors, equivalent to an average lifetime of 32 years (less than the 35 years sought by industry). Two key elements were a government commitment to respect the rights of utilities to operate existing plants, and a guarantee that this operation and related waste disposal will be protected from any "politically-motivated interference".

Other elements included: a government commitment not to introduce any "one-sided" economic or taxation measures, a recognition by the government of the high safety standards of German nuclear plants and a guarantee not to erode those standards, the resumption of spent fuel transports for reprocessing in France and UK for five years or until contracts expire, and maintenance of two waste repository projects (at Konrad and Gorleben).

In June 2001 the leaders of the Red-Green coalition government and the four main energy companies signed an agreement to give effect to this 2000 compromise. The companies' undertaking to limit the operational lives of the reactors to an average of 32 yearsmeant that two of the least economic ones - Stade and Obrigheim - were shut down in 2003 and 2005 respectively, and the one non-operational reactor (Muelheim-Kaerlich, 1219 MWe) commenced decommissioning in 2003. It also prohibited the construction of new nuclear power plants for the time being and introduced the principle of on-site storage for spent fuel.

The agreement was a pragmatic compromise which limited political interference while providing a basis and plenty of time for formulation of a national energy policy. An industry leader reminded his government that "Reliable and cost-effective energy supply must remain an important component of German economic policy". Some speculation centred on the future of the agreement and the revised Atomic Energy Act which followed it under any new government. Parliamentary opposition party leaders said that they would reverse the decision when they can.

If the present policy continues beyond the 2006 federal election, several large plants will be forced to close, creating a significant supply problem and raising concern from industrial consumers. Utilities are preparing for a change in policy after the election however, extending all 17 reactor lifetimes initially to 40 years (from average 32 years) and then to seek individual extensions to 60 years as in the USA.

Earlier, the utilities said that while they had achieved their stated goal, "to be able to carry on operating the German nuclear power plants under economically-acceptable conditions", the deal was still a second-best solution and completely failed to address the need for "comprehensive consensus" on energy policy generally. They pointed to reasons for nuclear energy needing to remain part of the German energy mix long-term, and the importance of actively maintaining the option for future generations by adequate R&D on the new European Pressurised Water Reactor (EPR) design, a Franco-German project.

Fuelling the dispute within the grand coalition government, a January 2007 report by Deutsche Bank warned that Germany will miss its carbon dioxide emission targets by a wide margin, face higher electricity prices, suffer more blackouts and dramatically increase its dependence on gas imports from Russia as a result of its nuclear phase-out policy, if it is followed through. Unless adjustments are made to the shutdown timetable which was passed into law, four large reactors (which started up 1975-77) totaling almost 4 GWe will be shut down by the end of 2009. The Economy Minister and utility owners called for urgent review of the policy. The Bank estimates that 42 GWe of new generating capacity will need to be constructed by 2022 if shutdowns proceed.

Utilities want to extend the lifetimes of all 17 reactors initially to 40 years (from average 32 years) and then individually seeking extensions to 60 years as in the USA.

Meanwhile Germany spends some EUR 2.5 billion per year subsidising its coal mines to produce 55% of its electricity (cf nuclear 31% with no subsidy). Brown coal produces about 1.25 tonnes of carbon dioxide per MWh Arising from the Kyoto accord, and as part of the differentiated EU "bubble", Germany is committed to a 21% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2010.

A major element in the federal government's war of attrition through 1999-2000 against the nuclear utilities was a law retrospectively to tax funds amounting to DM 50 billion which have been contributed by electricity users and set aside in trust as provision for waste management, decommissioning nuclear power plants and rehabilitating lignite mines. Early in 1999 industry promptly served notice that this would be vigorously contested as "a blatant breach of German constitutional rights and legal principles", as depletion of these funds by some DM 25 billion through the tax will leave future generations liable for much of the future costs. However, despite a scathing attack on it by the Chancellor, Mr Schroeder, in cabinet, the tax measure was approved by the upper house on the last day that the new coalition enjoyed a majority there.

France's previous Socialist-Green coalition, presiding over a largely nuclear-supplied electricity system which enabled it to be the world's largest net electricity exporter, made it clear that it had no intention of adopting similar policies, and expected that the impact of the German political decision was likely to be limited. There has been substantial Franco-German cooperation on development of an advanced reactor (the EPR) and on the safety improvement of early Soviet-designed reactors in Eastern Europe.

In May 2007 the International Energy Agency warned that Germany's decision to phase out nuclear power would limit its full potential to reduce carbon emissions "without a doubt." The agency urged the German government to reconsider the policy in the light of "adverse consequences."

The Federal Ministry of Economics & Technology (BMWi) implements national energy policy.

If Germany were to proceed with its nuclear phase-out policy and maintains carbon emission reductions, by about 2020 it would need to import some 25,000 MWe of electricity as base-load. The country already has significant interconnection with France, Netherlands, Denmark, Poland, Czech Republic and Switzerland. Connection with Kaliningrad (if a 2000 MWe Russian nuclear plant is built there) is likely. So increased nuclear capacity in several of those neighbouring countries - and pre-eminently France - could easily, by 2020, supply 25,000 MWe through much-expanded interconnection. This would put Germany in 2020 in much the same position as Italy today, being dependent on neighbours for electricity (which would be mostly nuclear) and a price-taker.

The new government elected in September 2009 is committed to rescinding the phase-out policy, but the financial terms are still being negotiated. If reactor lifetimes were extended from average 32 years to 60 years, the four operating companies could reap additional gross profit of EUR 100 billion or more, and the government is keen to secure more than half of this - much more than its extra tax revenue. Some agreement is expected by the end of 2010.

Electricity from renewable energy

Germany's attitude to nuclear energy became ambivalent, policies were adopted to promote renewable sources, notably solar and wind, though Germany is not well placed geographically in relation to either. This is primarily to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. By 2020 it is planned that renewables should contribute 20% of electricity supplies, compared with 14% at present (half of this being hydro, half wind). Due to the feed-in tariffs of the Renewable Energy Sources Act (EEG – Erneuerbare Energien Gesetz) passed in 2000, wind power has become the most important renewable source of electricity production in Germany. The number of wind turbines increased from 806 in 1991 to 19,460 in 2007 and is still rising. Renewable electricity fed into the grid is paid for by the network operators at fixed tariffs. The costs are passed on to electricity consumers, so that there are no subsidies by the government. The tariffs are different for specific technologies and subject to a reduction of about 5% each year as an incentive for price reductions in new plant. The price is guaranteed for 20 years after completion of the plant, so that the operators have confidence in their planning criteria.

The Federal Ministry's July 2007 progress report on the EEG said that in 2006, the costs to the electricity consumer resulting from the differential costs of electricity covered by the EEG in 2006 amounted to EUR 3.2 billion plus EUR 100 million for the provision of energy balancing. The average feed-in tariff apart from solar PV is 8.5 c/kWh, or 16.4 cents including solar PV in 2006 (solar PV being up to 49 cents). Wind provides nearly half of the renewable input and feed-in tariffs for new wind plants are generally 8.2 c/kWh on land and 9.1 c offshore. The combined subsidy from consumers and government totals some EUR 5 billion per year.

Uranium mining

From 1946 to 1990, some 220,000 tonnes of uranium (260,000 t U3O8) was mined in the former GDR, in Saxony and East Thuringia, notably at Wismut, with substantial environmental damage. Much of this was used in Soviet weapons programs, and for fuel in Eastern Europe. In 1991, 1207 tU was produced, in 1992: 232 tU and thereafter small amounts resulting from decommissioning and mine closure activities.

A small mine. Ellweiler, operated in West Germany 1960-89. All uranium is now imported, from Canada, Australia, Russia and elsewhere, a total of 3800 t/yr U.

Fuel cycle

Annual demand for enrichment is about 2.2 million SWU, most of which is provided by Urenco's Gronau plant, with capacity of 1.8 million SWU/yr being expanded to 4.5 million SWU/yr, following 2005 approval by the government coalition. Over 2006-09 the Gronau plant processed about 4500 tonnes per year of UF6, generating about 4000 t/yr of tails. This will double when the new capacity is on line. The licence for expansion limits tails storage to 38,000 t UF6 and 59,000 t deconverted to U3O8.

Most of the depleted uranium tails from the Gronau plant have been sent to Novouralsk in Russia for re-enrichment, but these arrangements finish in 2010. Over 2007 to 2009 Urenco sent 6500 t of tails assaying 0.30% U-235 to Novouralsk for re-enrichment, and 402 tonnes assaying 0.235% to Eurodif in France for re-enrichment. From Russia 270 tonnes of enriched uranium product was returned in this period.

In 2008 & 2009 Urenco shipped 518 tonnes of tails assaying 0.26% or less from Gronau to Areva's W Plant at Pierrelatte in France for deconversion. To the end of 2009, 1700 tonnes of UF6 from Gronau had been deconverted there and returned to Gronau as U3O8.

Fuel fabrication is undertaken by Siemens, mostly at Lingen in Germany.

Thirteen German reactors are licensed to use Mixed Oxide (MOX) fuel, using plutonium recycled from spent fuel. A MOX plant at Hanau in Hesse has never been allowed to operate, so all MOX fuel is imported.

Until 1994 utilities were obliged to reprocess spent fuel to recover the usable portion and recycle it. From 1994 to 1998 reprocessing and direct disposal were equally acceptable to the federal government, but the policy of the coalition government from 1998 to 2009 was for direct geological disposal of spent fuel and no reprocessing after mid 2005 (although firm contracts for reprocessing, totalling US$ 7.3 billion, were in place with BNFL and Areva).

Radioactive Wastes

In 1963 the federal government issued a recommendation to use rock salt formations for radioactive waste disposal. In 1973 planning for a national repository started, and in 1976 the Atomic Energy Act was amended to make such disposal a responsibility of the federal government.

The utilities are responsible for interim storage of spent fuel, and have formed joint companies to build and operate off-site surface facilities at Ahaus and Gorleben. However, current policy is for interim storage at reactor sites.

The federal government through the Federal Office for Radiation Protection (BfS) is responsible for building and operating final repositories for high-level waste, but progress in this has been hindered by opposition from Länder governments. DBE is the company actually building and operating the repository projects - Konrad and Gorsleben, while decommissioning Morsleben.

Following an exhaustive site selection process the state government of Lower Saxony in 1977 declared the salt dome at Gorleben to be the location for a national centre for disposal of radioactive wastes. It is now considered a possible site for geological disposal of high-level wastes. These will be about 5% of total wastes with 99% of the radioactivity. A pilot conditioning plant is there. The site could be available as a final repository from 2025, with a decision to be made about 2019. Some EUR 1.5 billion was spent over 1979 to 2000 researching the site. Work then stopped due to political edict, but the new government in 2009 approved resumption of excavation.

Other proposals are for a HLW repository in opalinus clay, which occurs in a number of places in Germany. In July 2009 new repository criteria came into force, replacing rules dating from 1983. Authorities may now license a high-level waste (HLW) repository only on the basis of scientific demonstration that the waste will be stable in the repository for a million years. In addition, all HLW disposed of in any German repository must be retrievable during the entire period the repository is operated.

Separated high-level wastes from past reprocessing in France are expected to be returned to Germany by 2022 and stored. A total of 166 large casks of glass canisters will be involved, 39 of these are already in storage at Gorleben. A further 300+ casks with canisters of compacted wastes from reprocessing could immediately go to a final repository, the canisters possibly in to boreholes.

A pilot reprocessing plant known as WAK (Wiederaufarbeitungsanlage Karlsruhe Betriebsgesellschaft) operated at Karlsruhe from 1971 to 1991, processing 206 tonnes of used fuel. The separated HLW from this is stored there in liquid form, and after a series of political delays is to be vitrified in 2009-12. The vitrified waste is to be stored at Greifswald while awaiting disposal in a geological repository. The low- and intermediate-level wastes from WAK were disposed of in the salt mine repository at Asse in Lower Saxony, and comprised about half of the wastes emplaced there.

The Asse salt mine repository, licensed by federal and state agencies in the 1960s and 1970s, is now closed. It received wastes from 1967 to 1978, it is in poor condition and is seen to represent a failure of proper licensing process. The BfS decided in 2010 that the wastes should be moved from it, and rejected an alternative of filling it with concrete to provide a stable matrix for the 126,000 drums there. The wastes are likely to be moved to Konrad.

The Konrad site (a former iron ore mine) has been under development as a repository since 1975, and was licensed in 2002 for intermediate- and low-level waste disposal, but legal challenges were mounted. These were dismissed in March 2006 and again in April 2007. A construction licence was issued in January 2008. Konrad will initially take some 300,000 cubic metres of wastes - 95% of the country's waste volume, with 1% of the radioactivity. DBE plans for it eventually to accommodate 650,000 cubic metres of wastes. It is expected to be operational about 2014.

The Ahaus facility is used for storing intermediate-level wastes.

The salt dome repository at Morsleben in east Germany for low and intermediate-level wastes was licensed in 1981, re-licensed post reunification, and was closed in 1998. It is in poor condition and is being stabilised with concrete at a cost reported to be EUR 2.2 billion.

Konrad, Asse and Morsleben are all in central Germany between Hanover and Magdeburg, Gorleben is about 100 km southeast of Hamburg.


Seventeen experimental and commercial reactors have been shut down and are being decommissioned. Five of these are VVER-440 units at Greifswald, closed in 1990 following reunification. Five are various BWRs, two are HTGRs, one is the large and relatively modern Muelheim-Kaerlich PWR shut down since 1988, one is Stade PWR closed in November 2003, one is Obrigheim PWR closed in May 2005, one is a prototype GCHWR and one is a prototype VVER. Eleven involve full demolition and site clearance. These will create about 10,000 cubic metres of decommissioning waste.

Decommissioning the currently operating reactors is expected to produce some 115,000 cubic metres of such wastes. It is being stabilised with concrete at a cost reported to be EUR 2.2 billion.

Konrad, Asse and Morsleben are all in central Germany between Hanover and Magdeburg, Gorleben is about 100 km southeast of Hamburg.


From 1956 a number of nuclear research centres were set up in West Germany, and most of these as well as university institutes were equipped with research rectors. Most of these reactors are now shut down and the centres have changed their roles.

In 1960 a 16 MWe experimental nuclear power plant ordered in 1958 was started up. Then in 1961 the AVR 13 MWe experimental high temperature reactor at Juelich was ordered, with fuel as a pebble bed. It operated for over 750 weeks from 1967 to 1988, most of the time with thorium-based fuel.

The 300 MWe THTR reactor at Uentrop was developed from the AVR and operated 1985-88 also using thorium-based fuel. Fuel fabrication was on an industrial scale. Several design features made the AVR unsuccessful, though the basic pebble bed concept was again proven. It drove a steam turbine.

An 80 MWe HTR-modul was then designed by Siemens and licensed in 1989, but was not constructed.

A fast breeder reactor, the 17 MWe Kompakt KNK 2 was built by Siemens and ran from 1978 to 1991. The much larger SNR-300 was also constructed by Siemens in the 1970s but for political reasons was never commissioned. The 1500 MWe SNR-2 was designed by KWU but not built.

In East Germany a research institute opened in 1956 and its research reactor started operation the following year. The first East German power reactor, the 70 MWe Rheinsberg PWR, was connected to the grid in 1966, operating until 1990.

In 1969 Siemens and AEG merged their nuclear activities to form Kraftwerk Union (KWU). KWU eveleped a series of PWR units culminating in the standardised 1300 MWe Konvoi design, of which only three were built (though six preceding ones were similar).

Through the 1990s Siemens-KWU with utilities worked with EdF and Framatome to develop the 1600 MWe EPR, now marketed by Framatome ANP (formed from Framatome-Siemens nuclear merger).

At Juelich, Urenco maintains a centrifuge development and manufacturing centre.

Regulation and safety

In 1955 the West German government established an Atomic Ministry (BfA)with strong European links. The Atomic Energy Act was promulgated in 1959 and is the core legislation relevant to licensing and safety. The Radiation Protection Ordinance, Nuclear Licensing Procedure Ordinance and six other ordinances support this.

The Federal Ministry of Environment (BMU) is the main national body involved with licensing and supervising nuclear facilities, and is supported by the Federal Office for Radiation Protection - Bundesamt fur Strahlenschutz (BfS). However, licensing of nuclear power plants and other facilities is actually done by the states, which are responsible for implementing federal laws. The BMU supervises this and can issue binding directives.

The BfS is responsible for construction and operation of nuclear waste facilities. Individual utilities are responsible for setting aside funds for waste disposal and decommissioning, As of 2003, some EUR 35 billion had been set aside - about 55% of this for wastes and 45% for decommissioning.

Public Opinion

German public sentiment has been split in relation to support of nuclear energy. A poll late in 1997 showed that some 81% of Germans wanted existing nuclear plants to continue operating, the highest level for many years and well up from the 1991 figure of 64%. The vast majority of Germans expected nuclear energy to be widely used in the foreseeable future. The poll also showed a sharp drop in sympathy for militant protests against transport of radioactive waste.

After the crucial October 1998 election a poll confirmed German public support for nuclear energy. Overall 77% supported the continued use of nuclear energy, while only 13% favoured the immediate closure of nuclear power plants.

In November 1998 Germany's electric utilities issued a joint statement pointing out that achievement of greenhouse goals would not be possible without nuclear energy. A few days later the Federation of German Industries declared that the "politically undisturbed operation" of existing nuclear plants was a prerequisite for its cooperation in reaching greenhouse gas emission targets. Nuclear energy then avoided the emission of about 170 million tonnes per year of carbon dioxide, compared with 260 Mt/yr being emitted by other German power plants.

A poll early in 2007 found that 61% of Germans opposed the government's plans to phase out nuclear power by 2020, while 34% favoured a phase out. Another poll in mid 2008 (N=500) showed that 46% of Germans want the country to continue using nuclear energy; another 46% said they support the nuclear phase out policy, and 8% were undecided.


Germany is a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as a non-nuclear weapons state. Its safeguards agreement under the NPT came into force in 1977 and it is also under the Euratom safeguards arrangement. In 1998 it signed the Additional Protocol in relation to its safeguards agreements with both IAEA and Euratom. It is also a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group.

Nuclear Engineering International, Feb 1996; July 2004;
NEI World Nuclear Industry Handbook 2004;
IAEA 2003, Country Nuclear Power Profiles.

參考來源:World Nuclear Association