Decommissioning work set to start at Biblis

31 March 2017

Permits to decommission Germany's Biblis nuclear power plant are to be issued to RWE Power following approval of its plans by the ministry of the environment in the state of Hesse. The operation to dismantle the two reactors is expected to take about 15 years.

Biblis plant  (RWE) - 460
The Biblis plant (Image: RWE)

Germany's reaction to the Fukushima accident in March 2011 was immediate and extreme, with Chancellor Angela Merkel making two decisions: one to order a shutdown of eight units that started operation in or before 1980 for a three-month moratorium period; and subsequently that those units may not be allowed to restart. Without consultation or reference to independent regulatory advice on the safety of the plants, the orders were executed by the German states which are home to the reactors.

The two reactors at Biblis were among the eight units to be ordered to be shut down. Biblis A and B - which are pressurized water reactors rated at 1167 MWe and 1240 MWe respectively - had been licensed to operate until 2019 and 2021 just two months before the shutdown order.

RWE Power submitted applications in August 2012 to Hesse's ministry of the environment, climate protection, agriculture and consumer protection for the decommissioning and dismantling of the two reactors. The application outlined in detail the proposed approach, the extent of dismantling, the procedures to be followed and the precautions to ensure radiation protection. A detailed safety report was also prepared and an environmental impact assessment carried out.

The ministry has now approved RWE Power's plan for decommissioning the reactors. "The dismantling of units A and B of the Biblis nuclear power plant can be started immediately," environment minister Priska Hinz said in a statement yesterday.

"In essence, the authorisations include the right of RWE Power to finalise the operation of units A and B of the nuclear power plant in Biblis in southern Hesse and the dismantling of plant parts as well as the right to process, store and dispose of radioactive wastes," the ministry said. "The approval for unit B also covers the further handling of irradiated fuel elements since, unlike unit A, unit B is not yet free of nuclear fuel. The campaign for the removal of nuclear fuel will begin this year."

Roger Miesen, chief technical officer of RWE Generation, said: "Today we have successfully completed the long-standing approval process, which has involved much work for the power plant team. This is an important milestone for the decommissioning and the direct dismantling of our power station."

Biblis plant manager Horst Kemmeter said, "We are well prepared to begin safe decommissioning. We have the goal to release the existing buildings from the atomic law in about 15 years." He added, "The dismantling of the Biblis power plant is a major challenge, technically, in terms of planning and organisation."

In January 2014, the German Supreme Administrative Court ruled that the state of Hesse acted illegally by enforcing the government's decision to shut the Biblis plant, backing up a decision made in February 2013 by the Administrative Court of Hesse.

The Federal Constitutional Court ruled last December that, although the country's 2011 phase-out legislation is essentially in compliance with the constitution, power utilities are entitled to "reasonable" compensation for the early shutdown of their reactors. According to that ruling, the legislator must draw up new provisions in the legislation governing this compensation by the end of June 2018.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News