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Speech by Wolfgang Renneberg Director-General:Nuclear Safety, Radiation Protection, And Nuclear Fuel Cycle at the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear SafetyMadrid, 24 May 2001

Location: Madrid


I would like to thank you for the invitation to talk to you today about the phase-out of nuclear power and the regulatory challenges for the German nuclear regulatory authority. I am alsodelighted that here in your beautiful country I have the possibility to contribute to an impressive series of lectures.

Unlike the CNS, my Directorate-General has two functions: firstly we are the supervisory body of the nuclear authorities of the Länder with their nuclear inspectorates. This means we are the'top regulator' in Germany. Secondly, we also have - as part of the Federal Environment Ministry - the task to work out the nuclear legislation for the German government on the basis of its nuclearpolicy.

And this brings me to the first part of my talk - outlining the developments in the phase-out of nuclear power in Germany.

Chernobyl marks a turning point for the change of public opinion in Germany against the nuclear energy option. Three different types of consequences drawn from the experience of the Chernobylaccident can be distinguished:

  1. National review programmes for lessons to be learned from the Chernobyl accident for own plants and additional measures to strengthen safety practices and to introduce additional risk managementmeasures. - These activities are mainly completed.
  2. Initiatives to strengthen international nuclear safety co-operation and establish an international nuclear safety regime to protect the international community from risks of nuclear power plantoperation. - These activities are still under way and the NSC is a cornerstone in this process.
  3. The third consequence of the Chernobyl accident are decisions against further nuclear power plant investments and programmes to phase out the use of nuclear power and to shut down plants.

Steps taken towards the phase-out of nuclear power

As you all know, the government in Germany has decided to phase-out the commercial use of nuclear power. I will point out some of the most relevant reasons funding this decision. The government'sdecision to phase-out the use of nuclear power results from a reassessment of the risks this technology poses. We are not saying that the power plants in Germany are unsafe by internationalstandards. However, the German government is of the opinion that the scale the impacts of possible nuclear accidents can not be justified, even if the probability of such an accident is low.Furthermore, a practical solution to the problem of the final disposal of highly radioactive wastes has still not been found. Radioactive wastes are a burden for further generations of people. Thephase-out of nuclear power restricts the production of more radioactive waste. A further reason is that the numerous measures that are required to prevent the risk of misuse of nuclear fissilematerial on the national and international level can only fulfil their intended protection, their safety and control functions as long as the respective country has stable social, political andeconomic conditions. The end of the commercial use of nuclear power in Germany and the stop of reprocessing of German fuel reduces the stock of proliferation material. In this respect it contributesto preventing the risks of proliferation even arising.
At the same time, these regulations serve to satisfy a deep-rooted social conflict in Germany.

After a year and a half of very difficult negotiations with the large German energy utilities on this phase-out, agreement was finally reached on 14 June 2000.

The Agreement on the Phase-out of Nuclear Power

As the implementation of this Agreement will be a task for us for several years to come, I would like to take this opportunity to outline the fundamental cornerstones of this Agreement:

  1. The electricity volume for each power plant will be restricted so that a plant under ordinary conditions will have an operating life of a total 32 calendar years. The right to continueoperation is terminated if the allocated electricity volume is reached. The Agreement does, however, allow electricity production to be transferred between nuclear power plants, but in principle onlyfrom less modern to more modern plants.
  2. The safety of nuclear power plants continues to be based on the best available science and technology. Apart from that, the German government does not intend to make any changes to its safetyconcept. Under these safety conditions it will assure operation of the nuclear power plants for the rest of their lifetime.
  3. For the case of nuclear accidents, the level of insurance cover will be raised to Euro 2.5 billion, almost a tenfold increase.
  4. Transports for reprocessing will be ended by 2005. Decentralised interim storage facilities will be constructed at the sites of German nuclear power plants to store spent fuelelements. The operators have committed themselves to storing the spent fuel there until final disposal. Thus transports to the central disposal sites at Ahaus and Gorleben are no longerrequired.
  5. And finally, the exploration of the Gorleben salt dome as a final repository is to be stopped. The moratorium period of up to ten years creates the freedom necessary for clarifying designand safety-related issues.
  6. Very important: The energy utilities will not make any compensation claims.

This Agreement is not a contract in a legally binding sense. It is more of a so-called Gentleman's Agreement, in other words it is politically rather than legally binding for theparties.

Benefits of a consensus agreement

Consensus agreement on the phase-out of nuclear power is a much better solution for all parties concerned than a disputed solution. It is advantageous because only in this way legal conflicts withnuclear power plant operations are likely to be avoided.

Consensus is equally beneficial for the energy industry. It now has clear framework conditions with political and legal support for the remaining operating life of its nuclear power plants, andcan use this as a basis to plan its long-term investment decisions for a nuclear-free energy supply. Because one thing is clear to all parties: even after the phase-out, Germany must be anenergy-producing country. Energy, technology and employment policy reasons support this. In this context I will only briefly mention the fact that against the backdrop of the liberalisedelectricity market and the gigantic overcapacity in Europe, the operation of nuclear power plants has become unprofitable in many ways. Reviews have shown that for the older plants, profit isno longer being made from electricity production: it is made "on the side", in other words from the interest of the funding (the money) put aside for decommissioning and disposal (over DM 70billion!).The operators also view this in a very pragmatic way, from an economic point of view: the owner of the Stade nuclear power plant, E.ON, announced in October 2000 that it wanted todisconnect this nuclear power plant from the grid in 2003 because its efficiency can no longer be ensured after the liberalisation of the electricity market.

Implementation of the Agreement to phase-out nuclear power

The Agreement of 14 June 2000 does not mean this issue (the phase-out project) has been resolved: as I have already mentioned, the Agreement is not legally binding. Furthermore, it contains a lotof tasks for all parties, so that at present we are in the middle of the implementation phase.

  • The most important step in this process is undoubtedly the amendment of the Atomic Energy Act. We have elaborated a draft that implements the Agreement step-by-step. This draft iscurrently being coordinated with the Federal ministries. We would like to bring the debate in the German Parliament to an end this year.
  • The Federal Office for Radiation Protection that belongs to the top regulatory authority is carrying out all licensing procedures for the interim storage facilities at the sites ofoperating nuclear power plants.
  • On the basis of the Agreement, the exploration of the salt dome at Gorleben was interrupted on 1 October 2000. The Federal Office for Radiation Protection has begun to clarify the designand safety-related issues that were the reason for interrupting the exploration of the Gorleben salt dome. The time of the moratorium is also being used to determine scientifically founded finalrepository criteria and a selection procedure for the site in a pluralistic process. To this aim, Federal Environment Minister Jürgen Trittin set up a working group in February 1999. Thisworking group was made up pluralistically from the group of final repository experts. For the first time experts from the most varied fields and with the most varied attitudes towards the use ofnuclear power and the disposal issues are working together. The working group has been assigned the task of - firstly, developing sound criteria for the choice of final disposal sites, and -secondly, developing a comprehensible procedure based on these criteria for selecting final repositories. The working group is looking for overall suitable conditions, (irrespective of the hostrock), which offer a good foundation for secure final disposal. One main point is to achieve acceptance. Just how important a procedure based on acceptance and transparency is can be seen in Germanyfrom the protests against transports for reprocessing to Gorleben: the protests are primarily against the final repository that was planned in Gorleben by previous German governments. The selectionof this site was not geared towards acceptance.

The process of developing a procedure, up to the concrete implementation of this procedure, is to be a three-phase process:
In phase I (until 2002) the working group is to develop a selection procedure. The public will be involved even at this early stage. Member of the public interested in the activities of the workinggroup can find more information on the group's homepage (www.akend.de). In addition, the working group will hold talks with interested major groups,for example community groups, environmental and industrial associations, churches and those with political mandates. To ensure public participation at this early stage, the working group has alreadyheld its first public workshop on options for final disposal in September 2000. The working group informed the public about its objective and preliminary results, and took on suggestions andproposals from the public. A workshop of this kind involving public participation is to be held annually. The next workshop will take place on 28/29 September 2001.
In phase 2 (2002 to 2004) the legal foundations of the selection procedure is to be implemented. In this phase, the criteria and procedure proposals developed by the working group will be discussedand agreed upon with the involvement of the public and the Länder.
In phase 3 (from 2004) the selection procedure will be implemented and following this, a comparison of sites will be carried out. Until the selection procedure and the site comparison have beencompleted, no new final repositories will be selected or decided on. The goal is to have a final repository for all types of radioactive wastes in operation by 2030.

Regulatory challenges

I have now come to the second part of my talk: the specific challenges facing the nuclear regulatory authorities.

During the residual operating life, high safety standards are still to be guaranteed. A decline in safety standards is not allowed.

Planned improvements in safety technology

Our priority is to meet the challenges linked to the ageing of nuclear power plants, the liberalisation of the electricity market and the possible decline of safety technology know-how for safetyin an outdated branch of technology.
At present, the framework conditions under which German nuclear power plants operate are changing considerably. The main cause is the liberalisation of the electricity market, which is leading toconsiderable cost pressure on companies. And what company would still be interested in investing in a plant that is going to be decommissioned in the near future? The consequence for the utilitieswill be the modification of organisational structures and downsizing of human resources. The danger exists that safety features and reserves will be cut back, both in the technical area, and thepersonnel and organisational area. The entire safety management of an operator is thus called into question.
Safety management comprises all measures that are planned in an organisation in order to guarantee safety standards, in other words to ensure a high quality for all activities relevant tosafety and a corresponding safety culture.
For this reason, the nuclear regulatory authority in Germany wants to create a system for easy-to-monitor, transparent safety management using regulatory mechanisms - and this - as far as possible -in cooperation with the operators. This is the key challenge. It possesses a new quality, as until now, the nuclear regulatory authority was basically oriented towards routine review programmes ofindividual components and systems of the power plant, as well as towards primarily technical analyses of incidents as deviations from normal operation. The new approach is to analyse incidents on thebasis of which individual concrete operating processes contributed to triggering an incident (long before the incident happened) in the run-up to the incident. This approach is process-oriented. Itsgoal is to lead to processes being structured in such a way as to prevent errors well in advance. The prerequisite for this is that all fundamental operations in a nuclear power plant aresystematically and transparently documented.

A process-oriented view would also aid in the evaluation of the changes in safety management. As a first step this requires developing a process model which displays all tasks and procedures inthe nuclear power plant. The individual procedures must be partitioned in such a way that the influence of the safety management on the procedures and its sequences becomes visible. The technical aswell as organisational and administrative procedures must all be taken into consideration.
The next step involves developing specific parameters for each of the individual procedures. These parameters must be representative for the procedures themselves and the safety management as awhole. This will involve quantitative as well as qualitative parameters. A typically quantitative parameter is the failure rate of tag-out measures in the plant. A typically qualitative parameterwould relate to the conformity between technical documentation and the actual design. Furthermore, criteria must be developed that, in turn, will allow an evaluation of these parameters to see whatis good and what is bad. A typical example for a quantitative criterion could be a limit value for the failure rate of tag-out measures, while a typically qualitative criterion could be that thetechnical documentation must be updated within thirty days after the system was actually modified.

Monitoring these parameters and indicators at relatively short intervals will enable changes in the safety management system to be detected, and to be detected at an early enough stage before theycan notably affect the safety level of the individual plant.
The operator of the plant will be put in a position to localise critical procedures when negative trends are discovered. Depending on the sublevel depth of the procedure, it will even be possible tomonitor individual tasks with respect to their quality.
By tracking the changes by means of these parameters or indicators, nuclear regulatory surveillance in turn will better be able to evaluate the aspects "personnel" and "organisation" in addition toevaluating the aspect "technology".

The second challenge is adapting regulatory requirements to the best available science and technology.

German regulations originate from the 1980s and have not been sufficiently adapted since then to the best available science and technology. For example, German provisions do not cover accidentmanagement. Nevertheless, the required measures have been implemented in the nuclear power plants to a large degree. Another example: there is no legally binding obligation to carry out periodiccomprehensive safety reviews. With the planned amendment to the Atomic Energy Act, there will be an obligation to carry out periodic safety reviews every 10 years, including a probabilistic safetyanalysis. In principle, this should not serve to reduce deterministic requirements. Putting aside deterministic requirements can only be considered if probability has been proven with sufficientcertainty that a decline in safety will not occur. This is based on the assumption that every probabilistic analysis contains a reliable error estimate.

Furthermore, German nuclear safety requirements and German nuclear safety practice must at least satisfy the internationally accepted standard. For this reason, we have drawn up a workingprogramme in order to carry out a comparison of provisions in order to update the safety requirements in good time and on the required scale. This includes a comparison of German legislativeprovisions with the IAEO provisions for nuclear safety. The German government will report on the results of this work programme at the next review meeting of the Contracting Parties to the NuclearSafety Convention.

The third challenge is the loss of competence. We are just starting to work out a concept for how to guarantee the required competence of the licensing and regulatory authorities and theirexperts during the residual operating life of German nuclear power plants.

The Nuclear Safety Convention

I regard the first review meeting of the Contracting Parties to the Convention on Nuclear Safety as a success for a global improvement in nuclear safety. The review process has proven to beeffective - within limits: the submitted country reports provided information on steps and measures that had already been taken or were planned in order to comply with the commitments laid down inthe Convention.
In order to increase the effectiveness of the NSC review mechanism, I welcome the Spanish proposal that the individual results of reviews that have thus far been protected by theconfidentiality provisions in the Convention be made available to the public. This would significantly increase the transparency and the comprehensibility of the review process. I am, however, awarethat it will not be easy to reach consensus on this proposal among the Contracting Parties.

As Germany is - to a much greater degree than Spain - in proximity to countries with low-level nuclear safety, we have a special interest in the Nuclear Safety Convention. Article 6 of theConvention addresses Contracting Parties to ensure that the safety of existing nuclear installations is reviewed as soon as possible, when necessary to upgrade the safety of the nuclear installationor - if such upgrading cannot be achieved - to shut down the nuclear installation as soon as practically possible. This approach has been practiced in Germany with regard to soviet-designed reactorssince the early nineties, before the NSC entered into force.

With reunification Germany has inherited 11 such plants under operation or construction together with the information on their safety deficits. These plants were shut down or construction wasabandoned in the early nineties.

But many of these reactors and Chernobyl-type reactors in Eastern European countries are still operating near the borders of my country. Protection against associated risks is indispensable.
We are very concerned about the fact that old Chernobyl-type RBMK nuclear reactors are to be used beyond the envisaged operating life of 30 years, and this despite the fact that they have beenneither upgraded, nor have in-depth safety analyses been carried out.
On the other hand, Germany has traditionally established close scientific, technical and economical co-operation with many of the Eastern European countries and of course intends to continue thisco-operation.

Therefore Germany has been a major actor in establishing multilateral and bilateral nuclear assistance programmes for Eastern European countries.

Over the past ten years, significant resources have been made available, mainly out of the German Federal budget, to investigate the safety of soviet-designed reactors. Many assistance andco-operation projects have been carried out, mainly in bilateral and multilateral frameworks, to increase protection against nuclear risks. The German regulatory body and expert organisations havebuilt up considerable expertise and infrastructure, direct contacts and an in-depth understanding of special risks and conditions of VVER and RBMK power plants in Eastern European countries.

We will continue to respond proactively to the challenges of nuclear safety and energy sector reforms in Eastern European countries.
We have played and we will play an active role in giving nuclear safety the necessary importance in the context of EU enlargement and we will contribute to multilateral programmes such as TACIS andPHARE and maintain related bilateral co-operation. In Germany, a high level of nuclear safety practice has to be maintained during the phase-out of nuclear energy. We will not accept it beingchallenged or made ineffective by accepting questionable or risky nuclear competitors in Eastern European countries.

Thank you very much.

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