Tributes paid as Germany's last nuclear plants close

17 April 2023

The operators of the last three nuclear power plants in Germany have marked their closures by saluting their operational records and contribution to providing low-carbon energy in the country for more than three decades.

Dismantling of Neckarwestheim II is expected to take up to 15 years (Image: EnBW) The last three nuclear power units in Germany were shut down over the weekend as the final stage of the country's nuclear phase-out policy, which dates back more than two decades. (Click here for a full guide to the history of Germany's decision end its long history of energy from nuclear power).

Neckarwestheim II

It was finally disconnected from the electricity grid on Saturday at 11:59pm German time, complying with the deadline of the Atomic Energy Act, operator EnBW said, adding: "The shutdown process proceeded technically according to plan and without incident. In the coming weeks EnBW will begin the initial preparatory work for dismantling the unit."

Neckarwestheim II is a 1400 MW pressurised water reactor which fed electricity to the grid for the first time in January 1989 and has generated more than 375 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity over 34 years, supplying about one-sixth of total electricity demand, and two-thirds of household electricity demand, in the state of Baden-Wuttemberg. The dismantling plan, including licences, has already been obtained by EnBW for the plant and the company, which is working on dismantling four other reactors, says dismantling of Neckarwestheim II will take between 10 to 15 years.

Jörg Michels, managing director of EnBW’s nuclear power subsidiary, said: "We would like to express our gratitude to the employees at the Neckarwestheim site for their unwavering commitment to the safety of the nuclear power plant, which in turn has ensured a safe and reliable supply of electricity in Baden-Württemberg. In recent months, They have once again demonstrated their expertise and professionalism by responding to the government’s request to extend electricity generation at short notice. This accomplishment commands the utmost respect."


Emsland (Image: RWE)

The 1400 MW pressurised water reactor was disconnected from the power grid in Lower Saxony on Saturday at 10:37pm local time, bringing an end to 35 years of operation during which its reliability has meant its overall availability has been around 94% and it supplied around 3.5 million households with electricity each year, with operator RWE saying this meant 10 million fewer tonnes of CO2 being released into the atmosphere.

Nikolaus Valerius, CTO for Nuclear Energy on the Executive Board of RWE Power and Technical Director of RWE Nuclear, said: "Nuclear energy at RWE was a real success story. The output generated at the Emsland nuclear power plant, amounting to more than 390 terawatt hours, could cover Berlin’s current electricity needs for almost 31 years. This would not have been possible without a skilled and motivated operating team. I would like to thank all the employees in our company who have taken good care of the plant every single day around the clock. The team’s performance over the entire operating period has been outstanding."

The Emsland plant began operating in 1988 with construction taking less than six years. Wolfgang Kahlert, the power plant manager, said: "For the power plant crew, the safe dismantling of the plant is now a priority. As one of the first measures, the reactor pressure vessel will be opened, the way it was done during previous overhauls. In the following weeks, the fuel elements in the core will be moved underwater to the fuel element storage pool."

RWE said that once a decommissioning and dismantling licence is granted it expects the dismantling process to take about 15 years and "the company expects the plant to be free of any traces of radioactivity and thus to be released from the Atomic Energy Act by 2037. Remaining buildings will then be demolished conventionally."

Isar II

Isar II (Image: Bjoern Schwartz)

The Isar II nuclear power plant produced about 12 billion KWh a year, about 12% of total electricity consumption in Bavaria, enough for 3.5 million households, The 1400 MWe pressurised water reactor was commissioned in 1988, with operator PreussenElektra saying that power was gradually reduced from 10:00pm local time on Saturday, with the generator automatically disconnected from the power grid at 11:52pm, marking the end of 35 years of power generation.

Guido Knott, CEO of PreussenElektra, said: "We owe the enormous success of Isar 2 to our employees in the power plants and the company headquarters, who have made PreussenElektra one of the world's most successful operators of nuclear power plants. With their tireless commitment, they enabled the continued operation of Isar 2 and thus made a valuable contribution to a secure power supply in Germany right up to the last day. Our sincere thanks go to you. Our partner companies, the nuclear supervisory authority and the experts commissioned by them have also contributed to our success story."

The process followed for the shutdown was similar to that followed for routine ones carried out during its years of operation. PreussenElektra said that it expected the 193 fuel elements in the reactor will all probably have been placed in the storage pool by the middle of the year and said it hoped to get the necessary approvals for dismantling the plant by the end of the year. It expects that the dismantling process will take up to 15 years from the granting of the licence, with all PreussenElektra nuclear power plants scheduled to have been dismantled by around 2040.

Political disagreement over the closures

Even as the three reactors were being shut down for a final time, the Bavarian prime minister Markus Söder was reported as asking the federal government to change the nuclear exit law to allow the state to operate plants under its own jurisdiction, with De Welt quoting him as saying the closure decision was a "stubborn" one, a "serious mistake" and was against a majority of the population and the European Union. He said there were questions about future energy capacity in Bavaria.

De Welt reported federal opposition CDU leader Friedrich Merz as saying that in view of the consequences of the nuclear phase-out for the supply situation, "all conceivable alternatives for a better energy supply can be discussed - including this proposal from Bavaria" and criticised the decommissioning of the last three German nuclear power plants as a "hasty decision by the federal government ... ultimately enforced by the Greens", who are part of the coalition.

The idea was rejected by the government, with Environment Minister Steffi Lemke, from the Greens, rejecting Söder's suggestion, saying it was "downright depressing how a prime minister so carelessly ignores licensing and constitutional issues and aspects of nuclear safety". In a statement to Reuters, Lemke said: "It is important to accept the state of the art in science and technology and to respect the decision of the German Bundestag."

Researched and written by World Nuclear News