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General information

Regulatory inspection and assessment (supervision)

After a licence is granted, nuclear power plants in Germany are subject to constant state supervision in line with the Atomic Energy Act (AtG) and accompanying nuclear licensing ordinances for their entire service life, including construction, decommissioning and shutdown. Each individual German federal state is responsible for supervision and therefore the surveillance of safety of the nuclear power plants located within their borders. In every state there is thus an authority responsible for nuclear supervision, and in most cases this is the Ministry for the Environment. The supervisory authorities generally decide whether and which supervisory measures are to be taken (factual competence).

Just as in the licencing procedure, the states are assisted by independent authorised experts, but decisions on supervisory measures are taken by the supervisory authority.

As with licensing, the main objective of regulatory supervision of nuclear power plants is to protect the general public as well as nuclear power plant employees from the risks associated with plant operation

The supervisory authority of each state closely monitors:

  • compliance with instructions, obligations and ancillary provisions imposed by licensing notices,
  • compliance with requirements of the Atomic Energy Act (AtG), nuclear licensing ordinances and other nuclear safety standards and guidelines, and
  • compliance with any supervisory orders.

The supervisory authority also investigates whether additional measures are required to protect life, health or material goods.

In order to ensure safety, the supervisory authority also monitors the following, with the assistance of its authorised experts and other authorities:

  • compliance with operating rules,
  • in-service inspections of safety components and systems,
  • evaluation of reportable events,
  • implementation of modifications to the plant or its operation,
  • radiation protection monitoring of plant personnel,
  • radiation protection monitoring in the vicinity of the plant, including the operation of an independent remote monitoring system for nuclear power plants,
  • compliance with approved plant-specific limits for radioactive discharge,
  • measures taken to safeguard against disruptive actions or other interference by third parties,
  • reliability, technical expertise and continuing technical education of responsible individuals and qualification of other plant employees, and
  • quality assurance measures.

As set out in the Atomic Energy Act (AtG), the authorised experts appointed by the supervisory authority can access the plant at all times and are permitted to perform any necessary examinations and request information relevant to the task at hand. However, the supervisory authority is not bound by the results of such investigations.

Nuclear power plant operators are required to submit written operating reports to the supervisory authorities regularly based on the respective licencing terms. Such reports include information about operating history, details of maintenance work and inspections and information about radiation protection and radioactive waste. Safety-related events must be reported to the authorities according to the provisions specified in the Nuclear Safety Officer and Reporting Ordinance (AtSMV in German). Reportable events and their evaluation are described in Annex 1 (in German) of the AtSMV. Plant operators also provide regular reports on specific issues.

In addition to continuous regulatory supervision, periodic safety reviews and submission of their results are performed as required under Section19a (in German) of the Atomic Energy Act (AtG).

On average, the supervisory authority performs on-site supervisory activities during normal operation in each plant once per week. Given the complexity of the plants, several supervisory authority representatives are generally responsible for monitoring a plant. The authorised experts are on site even more frequently. On-site supervision is stepped up during plant overhauls entailing exchange of fuel elements and after reportable events.

The emission of radioactive substances is automatically monitored around the clock by the independent remote monitoring system for nuclear power plants, both in the plant itself and in its vicinity. The Federal Office for Radiation Protection (BfS) also has a closely knit surveillance network to measure environmental radioactivity levels in Germany.

Below are the websites of the supervisory authorities of the five German states with nuclear power plants:

According to Section 24 of the Atomic Energy Act (AtG) in conjunction with Articles 87c and 85 of the Basic Law, the states perform their supervisory duties on behalf of the Federation. The Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety (BMUB) is tasked with ensuring that the law and safety-related principles and requirements are applied and enforced uniformly. The Federation can issue binding instructions to states with regard to issues of fact and law. Should the Federation exercise its right to issue instructions, it asserts what is called its competence for the subject matter when doing so.

This does not apply to what is known as the competence to exercise duties, however, which remains with the competent state authority. Competence to exercise duties means that each state is able to legally act vis-à-vis third parties and nuclear power plant operators in particular. Within the scope of the supervisory process, the Federation is prohibited from taking and enforcing any decisions with regard to nuclear power plant operators.

In practice, the Federation rarely exercises its right to issue instructions to the German states. In most supervisory processes involving the Federation, the Federation and states work together to reach a mutual agreement as to whether and which measures need to be taken.

Following the 2011 Integrated Regulatory Review Service (IRRS) Follow-Up Mission conducted by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety and the competent nuclear licencing and supervisory authorities of the states agreed to produce a joint  supervisory handbook (PDF, 1.3 MB, in German). This document details the cooperation between the Federation and the states in licenced and operating nuclear power plants and in procedures relating to nuclear energy law.

Last update: 09.12.2015