First measures following the accident
On 11 March 2011, a severe earthquake occurred off the coast of Japan. This earthquake and the tsunami which followed caused serious damage to several Japanese nuclear power plants, and to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in particular. On the same day a crisis unit was set up by Germany's Federal Ministry for the Environment; this unit continued to exist, expanding as necessary, for more than four weeks. Its primary aims were to keep the population of Germany informed about events in Japan and their impact, to prevent the importation of potentially contaminated foodstuffs and products and to ensure that German citizens in Japan at that time were protected from any radiological effects arising from the accident. This also involved dispatching representatives of the Federal Environment Ministry to the German embassy in Tokyo.
Safety review of German nuclear power plants
On 14 March 2011, in the light of events in Japan, the federal government and the Minister-Presidents of the five Federal Länder with nuclear power plant sites decided to review the safety of all German nuclear power plants. The autonomous Reactor Safety Commission (RSK), responsible for advising the Federal Environment Ministry on issues of nuclear safety, and staffed by a panel of recognised experts, was commissioned with the formulation and final review – in the form of a robustness test – of all German nuclear power plants and the final assessment of the respective results. In summary, the Reactor Safety Commission observed in its first statement dated 16 May 2011 that with regard to electricity supply and protection against flooding, German facilities appear to be better prepared than the Fukushima power plant. Further robustness tests revealed no uniform findings that could be related to either plant design or age. The RSK concluded its extensive deliberations on relevant insights from the Fukushima accident for German nuclear power plants with its recommendation of 26/27 September 2012.
Phasing-out nuclear energy
Parallel to the work of the RSK, the federal government convened the Ethics Commission for a Safe Energy Supply at the beginning of April 2011 with the aim of establishing a public consensus on future energy supply and discussing the risks of using nuclear energy. The commission submitted its recommendations on 30 May 2011, concluding that although the risks associated with nuclear energy may not have changed owing to the events in Fukushima, the way these risks are perceived has. The possibility of an accident spiralling out of control is of crucial significance in Germany. The commission recommended limiting the use of nuclear energy for the commercial generation of electricity as far as possible and phasing-out nuclear energy within a decade. The existence of lower risk alternatives would make the phase-out a realistic option.
On the basis of the review findings, discussions and reports submitted by both the RSK and the Ethics Commission, the '13th Act amending the Atomic Energy Act' was passed by a huge majority in the German Parliament on 30 June 2011 and entered into force on 6 August 2011. The right to commercial operation for the seven oldest nuclear power plants and the Krümmel nuclear power plant expired with the entry into force of the act. Owing to a prior decision by the federal government and the Minister-Presidents of the Länder with nuclear sites, these nuclear power plants had already been taken off the grid. The remaining nuclear power plant blocks have either already been closed down (2015 Grafenrheinfeld, 2017 Gundremmingen B) or are being permanently closed down in succession until 2022 (2019 Philippsburg 2, 2021 Grohnde, Gundremmingen C, Brokdorf and 2022 Isar 2, Emsland and Neckarwestheim 2).
The European Stress Test
At European level, the European Council declared on 24/25 March 2011 that "the safety of all EU nuclear plants should be reviewed, on the basis of a comprehensive and transparent risk and safety assessment (stress test)”. In Germany, the EU stress test was conducted - in addition to the RSK's own safety reviews - during the second half of 2011. The test revealed that in terms of the three central aspects (external events, loss of power and coolant failure, accident management measures), conservative and tough design requirements had been realised at the time of construction; there remained, however, room for ongoing improvements to power plant safety, especially with regard to emergency response to be pursued by the relevant supervisory authorities of the Länder in question. The Federal Environment Ministry has asked the RSK to take into account the results of the EU stress test (published at the end of April 2012) in its ongoing discussions on ways to improve the safety of German nuclear power plants.
Apart from the safety review of German nuclear power plants, risk analyses are also being carried out for other nuclear facilities. By now, the relevant Länder supervisory authorities have finished reviewing all research reactors with a continuous thermal load of over 50 kilowatts and forwarded the results to the RSK. The Reactor Safety Commission drafted an opinion titled "Plant-specific safety review (RSK-SÜ) of German research reactors in the light of the events in Fukushima-1 (Japan)" dated 3 May 2012.
In summer 2011, the Nuclear Waste Management Commission (ESK), another advisory body of the Federal Environment Ministry comprising independent experts, was commissioned with developing evaluation approaches for stress tests for installations and facilities in operation or under construction for the disposal of irradiated fuel elements and radioactive waste as well as for installations for uranium enrichment in Gronau and for fuel element manufacturing in Lingen. The large number and variety of installations and facilities to be examined as well as the broad scope of the radioactive inventory to be accounted for in the stress test led to the ESK dividing its statement into two parts. The first part was published on 14 March 2013 and the second on 11 July 2013
Another important measure undertaken by the Federal Environment Ministry following the analysis conducted in June 2011 into what actually happened in Fukushima was commissioning the Commission on Radiological Protection (SSK) with a review of the statutory regulations governing the off-site emergency response. The course of events in Japan differed greatly from that of Chernobyl, allowing new experiences to be gained in practically every field of emergency preparedness. The existing analyses conducted by the Japanese government and the International Atomic Energy Agency into the accident, the RSK safety review series as well as experience and observations made by the SSK crisis unit were taken into account during the review of the statutory regulations. In February 2015, the SSK published 76 recommendations on the advancement of emergency response based on experience gained in Fukushima I