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Nuclear Power
in Germany


Current state: In Germany are 9 nuclear power plant units with an installed electric net capacity of 12,074 MW in operation. They will shut down until 2022.

Germany’s post-3/11 decision to shut down immediately eight of its 17 operating reactors and phase out the remaining nine until 2022 triggered comments around the world, from disbelief to certitude of failure. That this choice was led by a conservative, pro-business, and, until the Fukushima disaster, very pro-nuclear Government, led by physicist Chancellor Angela Merkel, with no political party dissenting, makes it virtually irreversible under any political constellation.

Nuclear power plants still generated 91.8 TWh net in 2014 – 44 percent less than in their record year 2001 – and provided 15.8 percent of Germany’s gross electricity generation (just over half of the historic maximum of 30.8 percent in 1997). Of all countries operating more than two units, Germany, along with Finland, has the highest lifetime capacity factor with 87.5 percent. Eight of the nine units operated in Germany in 2014 are among the Top Ten lifetime electricity generators.

Germany exported a record 35.5 TWh net in 2014. Renewables, for the first time ever, were the largest contributor to the power mix and supplied 27.8 percent of gross national electricity consumption: – more than lignite with 25.4 percent, hard coal 17.8 percent, and natural gas 9.5 percent. Coal consumption was 1.4 percentage points and natural gas 1.2 percentage points below 2013, while lignite’s share remained identical. In another record, on 11 May 2015, renewables provided 80 percent of the capacity needed to cover German power needs. Wind power output is expected to rise significantly in 2015, with offshore wind adding some 2.4 GW, while a record onshore addition of 3.4 GW will become fully operational in 2015.

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On 6 June 2011, the Government passed far-reaching energy transition legislation that passed the Bundestag on 31 July 2011 almost by consensus and came into force on 6 August 2011. The seven-part new laws addressed many aspects of energy consumption and production. Key elements included:
* Nuclear operating licenses will expire once the production credit is used up. This meant that the eight units that had been shut down after 3/11 lost their operating license with the coming into force of the legislation.
* The production credit can be transferred from older to newer plants.

In addition to these decisions, the German Government decided on 12 June 2014 to rule out for the future any loan guarantees for the export of nuclear facilities, new or existing. Economy and Energy Minister and Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel declared: “Germany said goodbye to nuclear energy because it is intrinsically linked to considerable, non-controllable risks. These risks exist in foreign countries the same way. Therefore, it is logical that we do not support nuclear power plants in foreign countries in the future via Hermes guarantees.”

In March 2014, utility E.ON announced its intention to shut down its Grafenrheinfeld plant in May 2015, seven months earlier than required by law. E.ON planned to simply run the reactor until the fuel was used up. In April 2015, the date was delayed, because of the lower than expected operating hours in the winter due to low electricity demand. The reactor finally closed on 27 June 2015. Because of “lacking profitability”, the premature closure would be “unavoidable, also in the interest of the shareholders of the company”; E.ON argued that the particular weight of the German nuclear fuel tax was unbearable considering the short remaining lifetime of the reactor.

Germany also made notable progress in energy efficiency, and gross electricity consumption in 2014 was the lowest in 15 years. While the mild winter softened energy consumption in all European countries, the temperature sensitivity in France, for example, is 4.5 times higher than in Germany. German electricity consumption fell by 4 percent while the economy grew by 1.4 percent. Greenhouse gas emissions dropped to the second lowest level since 1990, again partially due to the mild winter. Germany’s fossil-fueled power generation reached a 35-year low, and coal-fired generation fell back to the 2010–11 level despite the record power exports.

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In Germany nuclear utilities have almost never invested into distributed generation. This is logical, as decentralization is the opposite to their business model that operates according to the old paradigm of centralized generation–transportation over substantial distances–distribution to final consumers. But if consumers start generating their own power – around 1.5 million in Germany – and countless families, businesses and public administrations elsewhere follow suit, what will the large traditional electricity utilities sell to whom?

Expected developments:

The main problem for Germany will be to find a repository for high-level radioactive waste. After decades of resistance, Gorleben is politically dead as a possible location. Until June 2016, a Commission – appointed by the German Parliament – shall establish the criteria to search a location in Germany. But the earliest between 2050 and 2080 a repository for high-radioactive waste in Germany will be available.

The decision to phase out nuclear energy and to develop renewables will confer a major edge for German industry (and also for german households. Once the price of oil will rise again, they will have with wind- and solar power affordable energy. As the German environmental journalists Franz Alt says: “Renewable energy is safe, environmentally friendly, eternally present, it is becoming cheaper and cause a short follow-up costs.”

On the other hand: Rising costs for new reactors are the main problem for the European nuclear power industry: The construction costs for Olkiluoto 3 in Finland are meanwhile shot powerfully into the air: It will cost at least 8.5 billion euros instead of the originally calculated three billion. The planned construction of Unit 4 has been given up on the basis of this experience. The same happened in Flamanville in Normandy: The reactor will cost 9 billion euro instead of originally planned 3.3 billion.

Although the Federal Government of Germany has decided to phase out nuclear power after the Fukushima-Disaster, the government has not included the production of uranium fuel in the withdrawal decision. That’s why Urenco Deutschland GmbH in Gronau has an unlimited operating license to produce uranium fuel for around 30 big nuclear power plants.