German cabinet approves extended reactor operations

20 October 2022

The German federal cabinet has approved an executive decision by Chancellor Olaf Scholz to allow the country's three remaining nuclear power plants to continue operating beyond the end of this year. It approved a draft amendment to the Atomic Energy Act which enables the Emsland, Isar 2 and Neckarwestheim 2 plants to operate until 15 April 2023 at the latest.

Robert Habeck (left) and Steffi Lemke announcing the cabinet decision on the amendment to the Atomic Energy Act (Image: BMUV / Sascha Hilgers)

On 17 October, Scholz took the decision to allow all three of to continue generating electricity until 15 April next year. His decision followed disagreement among the governing coalition parties over their continued operation beyond the 31 December 2022 nuclear phase-out date set by the previous Chancellor, Angela Merkel.

The amendment approved by the cabinet on 19 October creates the nuclear law requirements for a limited extended operation of the Emsland, Isar 2 and Neckarwestheim 2 until 15 April at the latest. The draft law stipulates that only the fuel elements still available in the respective plants are to be used for their further operation. The use of new fuel elements is not permitted. Therefore, the power output from the reactors will gradually be decreased. Due to the short period of a maximum of three-and-a-half months of additional power operation, no periodic safety review will be required.

The legislative amendment does not require the approval of the German parliament's upper house, the Bundesrat. "With the amendment to the Atomic Energy Act, the mandate from the Federal Chancellor's executive decision is implemented," the government said.

The Green Party - one of three coalition parties governing at federal level - agreed to support keeping the Isar II and Neckarwestheim II nuclear power plants in operation as emergency reserves until April next year. However, it opposed the procurement of new nuclear fuel. The liberal Free Democratic Party had called for all three plants to remain in operation until 2024.

"The phase-out of nuclear power will remain the same," said Federal Environment Minister Steffi Lemke of the Green Party. "Germany will finally phase out nuclear power on 15 April 2023. There will be no extension of the service life and no procurement of new fuel rods - and therefore no additional highly radioactive waste. The draft law will contribute to the stability of the power grid, which is compatible with nuclear safety because it limits the duration of nuclear power plant operation to a short period this winter. Even in the current energy supply crisis, we must keep an eye on the risks of nuclear power."

Federal Minister for Economic Affairs and Climate Protection and Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck also of the Green Party, added: "Today's cabinet decision creates clarity. The Emsland, Isar 2 and Neckarwestheim 2 nuclear power plants can continue to generate electricity in extended operation until 15 April 2023. After that it's over. There are no new fuel rods.

"In winter 2023/24 we will have different and better starting conditions. We will be able to import significantly more gas, also via our own LNG terminals. The power grids will be strengthened, the transport capacities will be increased. There will also be additional generation capacities on the grid, especially for the use of renewable energies. There is still hard work ahead of us, but the direction is clear: In this crisis, we must increase power generation capacities in the short term, but at the same time create the conditions for a long-term secure and climate-friendly power supply."

Researched and written by World Nuclear News