General information: Nuclear Safety and Nuclear Security

Use of nuclear energy in the Federal Republic of Germany

The framework conditions for the use of nuclear energy in the Federal Republic of Germany are laid down in the Basic Law (GG) and the Atomic Energy Act (AtG). The Basic Law regulates legislative and administrative powers in general, while the Atomic Energy Act provides the legal framework for the safe operation of all nuclear facilities, the safe and secure handling and the transport of radioactive substances. The Atomic Energy Act aims to protect life, health and property against the hazards of nuclear energy. Another purpose of the act is to phase out the use of nuclear energy for the commercial generation of electricity in a structured manner, and to ensure on-going operation up until the date of discontinuation.

Following the events at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, the framework conditions to phase out nuclear power for the commercial generation of electricity in Germany (nuclear phase-out) were further specified by the 13th Act amending the Atomic Energy Act which entered into force in August 2011. With the amended Atomic Energy Act entering into force, eight nuclear power plants immediately forfeited their operating licenses by law, followed by three more in 2015, 2017 and 2019. The operating licences for the three newest facilities will expire by 2022 at the latest; for all other nuclear power plants by 2021 at the latest.

Licensing procedure and regulatory supervision

Under the Atomic Energy Act, licensing from authorities is required for the construction and operation of nuclear facilities, handling of radioactive material, its transportation as well as both export and import to ensure protection against the risks associated with radioactive material and control of its use. The act lays down the requirements and procedures for licensing and supervision, including provisions on consulting authorised experts and costs charged.

Various laws and regulations as well as technical rules have been passed in Germany which have to be complied with by the licensee in order to ensure the safe operation of nuclear facilities, the handling of radioactive material and its transportation. Compliance with these stipulations is state controlled. Having received the licence, nuclear installations are subject to continuous state supervision for their whole lifetime, including construction and decommissioning. The main objective of the supervisory body is to ensure that the safety level laid down in the licence is maintained and where necessary hazards are counteracted. To this end, the competent authority may also impose specific obligations retrospectively. In case of relevant conditions the authority may even withdraw the licence or stop operations.

Disposal

The operation and subsequent dismantling of nuclear power plants generates low-level, intermediate-level and high-level radioactive waste. In addition, radioactive waste originates from the handling of radioactive substances in all nuclear installations and from using radioactive material in industry, trade, research and medicine. Permanent disposal of all types of radioactive wastes in deep geological formations in final repositories will be the last stage of disposal in Germany. In the past, low- and intermediate-level waste has been stored at the final repository for radioactive waste in Morsleben (ERAM) and at the Asse II mine near Wolfenbüttel. In May 2007 the conversion of the Konrad mine near Salzgitter to a repository for low- and medium-level radioactive waste with negligible heat generation began.

The site for a repository for high-level radioactive waste is to be determined by 2031 by means of a regulatory site selection procedure with comprehensive public participation. The foundation for this is the Site Selection Act which entered into force in 2013 and was amended in 2017 in line with the recommendations of the Commission on the Storage of High-Level Radioactive Waste. Previously determined exclusion criteria, minimum requirements, consideration criteria and other bases for decision-making provide the basis for the Site Selection Act and were laid down in the law. The federal company for radioactive waste disposal is responsible for implementation and will carry out a three-stage procedure based on the current Site Selection Act. First, on the basis of all geological data available in Germany, it will rule out those areas which cannot be considered for a repository. Drilling and other explorations above ground will be carried out in a second stage to further examine the three potential host rocks rock salt, argillaceous rock and crystalline rock (for example granite) and to identify possible sites where, in a third stage, explorations below ground can take place. At the end of each of the three stages, the federal legislator will take a decision. It will then select the site and lay it down in a federal act. Exploration of salt dome Gorleben, the only location explored so far, was stopped in December 2012. The site was included in the site selection procedure, however it was not identified as a component site and has thus been withdrawn from the procedure.

International cooperation – in Europe and worldwide

With regard to nuclear safety and nuclear security no country can be viewed in isolation.

Germany has thus also become a party to the relevant international conventions, i.e. the international conventions on nuclear safety (CNS), on safe disposal, assistance and information as well as liability. For the members of the European Union, the Council, on the primary-law basis of the Euratom Treaty (1957), adopted Council Directive 2009/71/EURATOM establishing a Community framework for the nuclear safety of nuclear installations on 25 June 2009 (amended by Directive 2014/87/EURATOM) and Council Directive 2011/70/EURATOM establishing a Community framework for the responsible and safe management of spent fuel and radioactive waste on 19 July 2011. This was the first time that binding European regulations in the field of nuclear safety were adopted and these have now been implemented by, for example, the first European stress test and topical peer review on age management.

The European Nuclear Safety Regulators Group (ENSREG), a group of high-ranking representatives of nuclear regulatory authorities in the EU member states advising the European Commission, also participated in the preparation of these two directives. The Federal Environment Ministry (BMU) is a member of both ENSREG and of the Western European Nuclear Regulators' Association (WENRA), a group of European regulatory authorities made up of 18 countries whose main task is to exchange experiences on the safe operation of nuclear power plants and harmonise safety standards in the areas of nuclear safety, decommissioning and disposal.

In addition to cooperation at EU level, the BMU is also active at international level and works together directly with the regulatory bodies from other countries or indirectly in various groups and international organisations, in particular the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) of the OECD. It maintains bilateral relations with neighbouring countries to exchange information and on emergency response issues.

Various international activities and joint safety reviews (stress tests) were initiated due to the events in Fukushima.

Security

In addition to the safe operation of nuclear facilities, the safe handling of radioactive material and its safe transportation, security must also be guaranteed in all cases. Security as defined in the Atomic Energy Act means protection against disruptive action or other interference by third parties, for example protection against terrorist attacks or manipulations. For this area, too, there are comprehensive rules and regulations in Germany. They are also part of the state licence for a nuclear facility and compliance is subject to continuous state control. However, the specific security measures to be complied with also depend on the prevailing threat situation.