The Baden-Württemberg Ministry of the Environment has granted utility EnBW Kernkraft GmbH approval to decommission and dismantle unit 2 of its Neckarwestheim NPP. The plant is due to shut down later this month. The 1400 MWe Neckarwestheim 2 pressurised water reactor began operating in 1989. It generated more than 11 TWh of electricity in 2022.

In 2011, following the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident in Japan, Germany decided to phase out nuclear power. The 13th amendment of the Nuclear Power Act was put into effect and eight nuclear units were permanently shut down in 2012. These included EnBW's Phillipsburg unit 1 and Neckarwestheim unit1; E.ON's Isar unit 1 and Unterweser; RWE's Biblis A&B and Vattenfall's Brunsbüttel and Krümmel (both already closed). The remaining nine reactors were to close by the end of 2022. E.ON’s Grafenrheinfeld closed in 2015; RWE’s Grundremmingen B in 2017; EnBW’s Phillippsburg unit 2 in 2019; and Vattenfalls Brokdorf, E.ON’s Grohnde and RWE’s Gundremmingen C in 2021. Two older reactors - E.ON’s Stade NPP and ENBW’s Obrigheim had already been shut down in 2003 and 2005. 

However, in October 2022, in face of Europe’s growing energy crisis following the imposition of sanctions on Russian gas supplies, the German federal cabinet approved an executive decision allowing the three remaining NPPs to continue operating. A draft amendment to the Atomic Energy Act enabled RWE’s Emsland NPP, E.ON’s Isar unit 2 and EnBW’s Neckarwestheim unit 2 to operate until 15 April 2023 at the latest.

Following the approval to decommission Neckarwestheim 2, EnBW noted: "The dismantling programme for the fifth and last nuclear power plant in Baden-Württemberg has thus been approved in all sub-scopes within the framework of nuclear law." EnBW had already obtained decommissioning permits for Neckarwestheim 1, Obrigheim NPP and for Philippsburg 1&2. The application for the Neckarwestheim 2 permit had been submitted in 2016.

"EnBW is thus the first operator of nuclear power plants in Germany for whose nuclear power plants all dismantling permits have been obtained," the company said. "In addition, EnBW is the only operator in Germany to date that has already received dismantling approval for two plants before they were finally shut down. In 2019, EnBW had done this for the first time for Philippsburg 2 and was now able to repeat this for Neckarwestheim 2".

Environment Minister Thekla Walker said the permit meant that Neckarwestheim 2 could be quickly shut down and dismantled after it closed on 15 April. "The Ministry of the Environment, as the responsible supervisory authority, will closely and intensively accompany the dismantling that is now beginning", she noted, adding that “now the era of nuclear power is ending in Baden-Württemberg”.

"Our master plan for decommissioning, which we defined more than ten years ago, aims, among other things, to ensure the safe and speedy decommissioning of our nuclear power plants, said Jörg Michels, Managing Director of the EnBW nuclear power division. “Since dismantling requires approval, our strategy was designed to obtain these approvals. Now we are the first in Germany to have all the necessary permits.”

Meanwhile, the last fuel rods from the Philippsburg NPP, also in the state of Baden-Württemberg, have been removed the site. Since March 2022, the fuel still remaining in the unit 2 storage pool has been packed into 40 casks and transported to the onsite interim storage facility of BGZ Gesellschaft für Zwischenstorage mbH.

"This means that another important milestone in the dismantling of the Philippsburg nuclear power plant has been reached – and with it a valuable gain in safety," said Environment Minister Walker. "It is now a matter of continuing to implement the nuclear phase-out in Baden-Württemberg in a consistent and safety-oriented manner".

The final rod from Philippsburg 1 was removed in 2016 and the unit in the advanced phase of dismantling.

Image: Aerial view of Germany's Neckarwestheim nuclear power plant (courtesy of EnBW)

Date: Wednesday, 12 April 2023
Original article: neimagazine.com/news/newsdecommissioning-progresses-in-germany-10747989