On March 7, 2022 the two German ministries for the economy and the environment, BMWK and BMUV, published a review report („Prüfvermerk„, German) regarding a possible life-time extension of the then three German nuclear power plants. The review report contained a great number of factual errors as regards the legal, technical, and economic situation. On March 9, I published the following statement of technical criticism dealing with the claims made by the ministries.

March 9, 2022

I do not share the view occasionally expressed that the papers from the BMUV and BMWK are suitable for ending the debate on a lifetime extension. It is obvious that the experts in the Reactor Safety Commission and the Society for Reactor Safety were not consulted. As a result, a number of avoidable misstatements characterise both the BMUV’s statement and the BMWK’s FAQ. The public debate should and hopefully will soon be conducted more competently. I will pick out the most important points here.


  • The Lord giveth, the Lord taketh away. The Bundestag would indeed now have to decide on a lifetime extension, but it has a great deal of room for interpretation (prerogative of judgement), especially according to the case law of the Federal Constitutional Court. An amendment to the Atomic Energy Act that lifts the ban on the authorisation of nuclear power plants and the construction of „residual electricity quantities“ would be within the competence of the Bundestag.
  • Preparations for such a decision need by no means include a full Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) including public participation. Although the public was extensively involved in the 2010 lifetime extension, it was not involved in the 2011 lifetime reduction. Instead, the 2011 amendment to the Atomic Energy Act was decided by an ethics committee in a questionable procedure, but without taking expert advice into account (see André Thess‘ criticism).
  • The 2010 decision-making process on the life-time extension in particular should be taken into account. It was the only time in the history of energy policy that a legislative amendment was decided on the basis of a formal weighing of interests. All other amendments to energy legislation since 1998 (perhaps earlier, I have not investigated this) have dispensed with a balancing of interests, e.g. in accordance with Art. 20a.
  • The claim that nuclear power is a high-risk technology has never been true, even taking Chernobyl into account. (In Fukushima there was only one recognised radiation fatality, a smoker with lung cancer). The Bundestag could recognise that nuclear power is a low-risk technology in accordance with the latest scientific findings, and the national constitutional court (BVerfG) would have to follow suit.
  • In times of a serious national energy crisis, the BVerfG is likely to be even more generous in its assessment of the legislator’s room for manœuvre.
  • It is problematic that the employees of the BMUV do not know the difference between an operating licence – which is also available for all plants during the dismantling period – and a licence for power operation – which only the last three nuclear power plants Emsland, Neckarwestheim and Isar 2 still have. This is a further indication that the BMUV does not have sufficient qualifications.


  • All post-Fukushima measures have been implemented in all six plants that were taken offline last year or are still in operation to ensure that the plants can cope with a meltdown and do not endanger the surrounding area. There are no new requirements, which is why the power plant operators estimate the technical costs required for continued operation at around one billion euros for all six plants combined. Certain components would indeed have to be replaced, but this is routine for the operators.
  • The periodic safety inspections are not a strict authorisation requirement, but a kind of additional supervision for nuclear power plants. Nowhere does it say that the legislator could not extend the PSRs so that downtimes could be avoided.
  • Nuclear fuel is not like a candle that burns down and then there is nothing left. In Grafenrheinfeld, fuel assemblies continued to be operated beyond the „expiry date“ for two and a half years between 2013 and 2015, but only with decreasing reactor power after the fuel rods in the fuel assemblies were re-sorted (see entry in PRIS database). The background to this was the dispute over the constitutionality of the nuclear fuel tax. All six plants that are still operational allow this extended operation, and considerable amounts of additional electrical energy could still be generated.
  • According to a French-German manufacturer, new fuel elements could be produced much faster than usual (12 months) due to under-utilisation. A fuel shortage could therefore be easily avoided.
  • Even under military bombardment of a nuclear power plant of today’s design, it is difficult to construct a damage scenario in which relevant quantities of radioactive material could be released into the environment. This applies to the VVER-1000 in Ukraine and at least as much to the German plants.
  • At most, the stockpiling of spare parts is relevant. However, this does not prevent the continued operation of the plants, but only increases the risk of unplanned outages in the future. New supply chains could be established, as the six remaining German plants only account for <2% of all plants worldwide.


  • According to unanimous statements from work councils and employees at the six plants, many plant employees would forego early retirement if there was a prospect of continued operation. Even for long-term continued operation, younger operating teams could be built up in the meantime; the specialised training to become a reactor operator takes „only“ three years, which could be bridged.
  • There is a lot of misinformation about the supposed lack of insurance cover for nuclear power plants. However, the plants can continue to be insured at any time with insurance premiums of around 25 million euros per year, which is quite manageable given the very low risk of a major accident. Continued operation would not change this.
  • The role of the owners, who would like the state to play a stronger role as a quasi-operator, should indeed be scrutinised. We already said last year that a lifetime extension guaranteed by a state treaty for at least 15 years, preferably 20 years, would be necessary to motivate the operators to risk a volatile policy on nuclear policy issues.
  • Gas prices are currently higher than coal prices, so it is fundamentally correct that more nuclear power will first push coal and then gas power out of the electricity grid. As there is a complex interplay between fuel and CO2 prices, the situation can change at any time.
  • The fact that there is serious discussion about operating coal-fired power plants instead of nuclear power for the time being and for a long time to come shows the low priority of climate policy.
  • The six plants recently supplied 64 TWh/a or approx. 11% of electricity consumption. More than all PV systems combined. To portray this contribution as irrelevant lacks any factual basis.


Extending the lifetimes of all six plants that are still operational today would be by far the cheapest and most effective measure to ensure security of supply in the short term in a cost-effective and environmentally friendly manner. I think that the discussion about the political blockade on this is yet to begin, and it would be helpful if the ministers in Berlin would finally do their homework in order to develop solutions as to HOW a lifetime extension can be achieved. All other solutions that are currently being put forward can only provide a remedy in the much longer term.