German nuclear shutdown unlawful

14 January 2014

CORRECTED: An earlier version of this article was inaccurate in its description of the legal action ongoing in Germany. This is corrected below.
The forced closure of RWE's Biblis nuclear power plant after the Fukushima accident was unlawful, the German Supreme Administrative Court has ruled. The utility is now likely to sue for considerable damages.

Germany's reaction to the Fukushima accident in 2011 was 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.

Today the state of Hesse was told it acted illegally by enforcing the decisions on the Biblis nuclear power plant sited in the state, backing up a decision made in February 2013 by the Administrative Court of Hesse. This had been appealed by the Hesse government, but today's ruling by the Supreme Administrative Court dismissed that appeal, making the state court's decision binding with no further appeal possible. Efforts to force the shutdowns were "formally unlawful because [RWE] had not been consulted and this constituted a substantial procedural error," said the court.

Plant owner RWE can now sue for compensation over the loss of the Biblis units as an asset. The plant has two reactors, Biblis A and B, which are pressurized water reactors rated at 1167 MWe and 1240 MWe respectively and which had been licensed to operate until 2019 and 2021 just two months before the shutdown order. The company has previously said it suffered losses of over €1 billion ($1.3 billion) in 2011 alone due to the Biblis shutdown.

The same shutdown orders hit Germany's other nuclear operators, EOn, Vattenfall and EnBW, although EnBW is 45% owned by the Green-governed state of Baden-Wurttemburg and is not contesting the shutdown or appealing a ruling that upheld the fuel tax. EOn and Vattenfall have doubts about the legality of the shutdown order, but have chosen not to pursue the matter in court, industry group Deutsches Atomforum told World Nuclear News. Instead the companies are contesting the constitutionality of the 2011 amendment to the Atomic Act which redrew operating periods for remaining reactors. Another set of questions on the fuel tax have now been referred by German courts to the European Court of Justice. Sweden-owned Vattenfall is contesting the shutdown via international arbitrartion.

Collectively the utilities lost 8336 MWe of nuclear generating capacity, closing Biblis A and B, Neckarwestheim 1, Brunsbuttel, Isar 1, Unterweser, and Phillipsburg 1. Despite only starting operation built in 1984, Krummel was not brought back from long-term shutdown. 

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News