Nuclear power plant

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Grafenrheinfeld nuclear power plant . The nuclear reactor is under the dome in the middle. There are two cooling towers on the left and right.
Demonstration in front of the Gösgen nuclear power plant (Switzerland)

A nuclear power plant ( KKW ), also atomic power plant ( AKW ), is a thermal power plant for the production of electrical energy from nuclear energy through controlled nuclear fission (fission).

The physical basis of nuclear power plants is the release of energy when heavy atomic nuclei are split. The binding energy per nucleon is greater in the fission products than before in the fissile core. This energy difference is during nuclear fission - mainly as kinetic energy of the fission products - released. The deceleration of the fission products by the surrounding material generates heat with which water vapor is generated.

Larger nuclear power plants consist of several blocks that generate electricity independently of one another . Each block contains a nuclear reactor .

In April 2020 there were 442 nuclear reactors worldwide with a total of 391 GW net output.


Word origin

The term atomic energy was coined by Hans Geitel in 1899 for the energy released during nuclear reactions and radioactive conversions . At that time the structure of atoms was still unknown. Colloquially, a nuclear weapon whose effect is based on nuclear fission and / or nuclear fusion is also referred to as an atomic bomb . The terms atomic or nuclear weapon introduced later could only establish themselves in sophisticated and technical usage.

In 1955 the Federal Ministry for Atomic Questions was created in Germany, which was merged into the Federal Ministry for Nuclear Energy and Water Management in 1957 and into the Federal Ministry for Scientific Research in 1962 . The heads of the Ministry of Atomic Energy were called the Minister of Atomic Energy . The first nuclear research ship in Germany, the Otto Hahn , which went into operation in 1964 , is often referred to as the "nuclear ship". The European Atomic Energy Community (EAG, now EURATOM), founded in 1957, also got its name from the mostly positive term atom at the time .

From the mid-1960s, the replacement of the term atom by nucleus increasingly prevailed in German usage . The reason given for this is often the increasing fear of a nuclear war due to the worsening Cold War and the Cuban Missile Crisis, in which the word atom was received increasingly negatively. The terms nuclear power plant (KKW) and atomic power plant (AKW) are used as synonyms. In 1966 the designation nuclear power plant was used for the power plants Rheinsberg and Gundremmingen A and later for all other plants in Germany . The designation “nuclear power plant” is regulated by the DIN ISO 921/834 standard.

Technology history

KRB A Gundremmingen in August 1966, view from the weather mast
View of the control room of the GDR's first nuclear power plant near Rheinsberg (1966)

The world's first civil nuclear power plant was successfully commissioned in Obninsk, Russia, in 1954 . It had an electrical output of 5 MW. In 1955, a nuclear power plant was built in Calder Hall (England), which was connected to the grid in 1956 with an output of 55 MW and is known as the first commercial nuclear power plant in the world.

Transportable nuclear reactors played a central role in the arms race in the field of nuclear powered submarines with the USS Nautilus from 1954 and its first Soviet counterpart, the K-3 Leninsky Komsomol and in 1960 with the first nuclear powered aircraft carrier the USS Enterprise .

The responsible Federal Ministry in the Federal Republic of Germany has been promoting the technology since 1955 - initially under the leadership of Franz Josef Strauss - with sums of billions. The information on the amount of funding differs considerably, depending on the source, reference year and calculation method. VGB PowerTech eV names an amount of 7.83 billion euros, in 1999 the news magazine Der Spiegel gave a figure of 50 billion DM, Greenpeace even comes to 200 billion euros with more recent calculations. In a speech in the Bundestag in 1979, the former CDU member of the Bundestag Herbert Gruhl already mentioned an amount of DM 20 billion that was "spent from public budgets to promote nuclear energy". In an ÖDP leaflet , Gruhl put research spending at DM 5 billion for 1984 alone.

Boiling water reactors were used in most early nuclear power plants because they are easier to build and control. In the meantime, however, pressurized water reactors are more common, which have higher power densities and where the control area is smaller. The first nuclear power plant in Germany was the Kahl nuclear power plant (16 MW electrical) built by AEG under license from GE with a boiling water reactor, which first became critical on November 13, 1960 . This was followed by the Karlsruhe Multipurpose Research Reactor (MZFR) (September 29, 1965, 57 MW electrical) and the Rheinsberg nuclear power plant , a water-water-energy reactor (WWER) of Soviet design in the Neuruppin district in the GDR . It was synchronized with the network for the first time on May 9, 1966 and was in operation until 1990. The next was a boiling water reactor in Gundremmingen (KRB A), which was run critically for the first time on August 14, 1966, with an output of 250 MW (electrical) and finally a power plant with a pressurized water reactor in 1968 in Obrigheim in Baden-Württemberg (357 MW electrical ).

All German nuclear power plants still in operation were built by Siemens AG or its former subsidiary Kraftwerk Union (KWU).

The four nuclear power plants with boiling water reactors ( Brunsbüttel , Isar I , Philippsburg I and Krümmel ) - finally shut down in August 2011 as part of the nuclear phase-out - were started by AEG and completed by KWU after the nuclear power division of AEG was merged into KWU. Information on what happens after the final shutdown can be found under Post-Operational Phase and Decommissioning of Nuclear Facilities .

Generations of nuclear power plants

Nuclear power plants can be divided into different generations:

generation description Examples
I. First commercial prototypes Shippingport 1957, PWR 60 MW (electrical)
Dresden (Illinois) 1960, SWR 180 MW (electrical),
Fermi 1 1963, breeder reactor 61 MW (electrical)
II Commercial power reactors in operation Most pressurized water reactors and boiling water reactors , CANDU , convoy , EdF power plants (PWR)
III Advanced reactors (evolutionary developments from Generation II) EPR , AP1000 , ABWR , high temperature reactor , Advanced CANDU Reactor , MKER , Russian floating nuclear power plant
IV Future reactor types (currently being promoted
by the Generation IV International Forum )
Liquid salt reactor , S-PRISM , rotor shaft reactor , breeder reactors , Small Modular Reactor

Number of nuclear power plants

Worldwide use of nuclear energy to generate electricity
Worldwide commissioning and decommissioning of nuclear power plants, measured in MW installed capacity, country-specific (colors).

Until the end of the 1980s, the number of nuclear power plants rose steadily worldwide; in 1989 it reached a temporary peak with 423 reactors used for electricity production. After Chernobyl, growth slowed sharply. The number of operated plants was 444 in 2002 and 436 in 2009. In 2008, for the first time since the 1960s, no new nuclear power plant was commissioned anywhere in the world. In March 2011, three core meltdowns occurred during the Fukushima nuclear disaster ; the other three reactors at this location were also abandoned.

In April 2020, 442 reactor units with a total output of 391 GW were in operation worldwide. Another 53 reactor blocks with a total output of 56 GW were under construction, most of them in Asian countries.

Function and structure

Scheme of a power plant with a pressurized water reactor
Scheme of a power plant with a boiling water reactor

The conversion into electrical energy takes place indirectly as in conventional thermal power plants: The heat that is generated during nuclear fission in the nuclear reactor (it corresponds to the boiler in a coal-fired power plant ) is transferred to a heat carrier - usually water (standard type light water reactor ), which heats it . Water vapor is generated directly in the reactor or indirectly in a steam generator . The pressurized steam is fed to a mostly multi-stage steam turbine . Steam turbines in nuclear power plants are among the largest steam turbines ever. After the turbine has expanded and partially condensed the steam, the remaining steam is condensed in a condenser. The condenser corresponds to a heat exchanger , which is connected on the secondary side to a river or a cooling tower . After the condensation, the now liquid water is pumped up to the vapor pressure in the nuclear reactor or steam generator and regeneratively preheated in several steps almost to saturation temperature. The water then enters the nuclear reactor and the cycle begins again. The water-steam cycle corresponds to the Clausius-Rankine cycle .

Nuclear reactor

The nuclear reactor is the heart of the power plant. In its central part is the reactor core , which consists of fuel elements in which nuclear energy is released and converted into heat through controlled fission and radioactive decay . This heat is used to heat a coolant that is pumped through the reactor, thereby transporting the energy out of the reactor.

Since nuclear fission is associated with radioactivity that is dangerous for living beings , the reactor core is surrounded by a protective shield. This so-called biological shield absorbs the radiation emerging from the reactor pressure vessel. The outer shell around the reactor and the radioactive by circuits, which include the fuel pool is one which forms the containment vessel (containment) which, when accidents prevents radioactive materials into the environment. If the primary circuit breaks, the containment is automatically hermetically sealed (so-called penetration seal) and is designed in such a way that it can withstand the pressure that builds up. In addition, many reactor buildings are equipped with a concrete dome to protect the reactor from external influences.

Different types of reactors are used in nuclear power plants, which differ essentially in the nuclear fuels , cooling circuits and moderators used.

Steam turbine

Low-pressure turbine rotor from the Unterweser nuclear power plant

The task of the steam turbine is to convert the heat contained in the steam into rotational energy . The generator shaft is coupled to the turbine shaft . Saturated steam turbines are mostly used in nuclear power plants . The turbine has a high pressure section and - usually two or three - low pressure stages. Due to the high steam moisture after the high-pressure part, the steam is dried by means of live steam overheating and high-speed separation before it enters the low-pressure part. At the end of the last row of blades of the low-pressure part, the steam has a humidity of around 15%. The expansion into the wet steam area leads to a high working yield, but with the disadvantages associated with moist steam.

If the generator can no longer deliver the generated electrical energy due to a malfunction, it absorbs correspondingly little mechanical energy. As a reaction to this drop in load , the speed of the turbine would increase beyond the permissible operating limit, with the risk of self-destruction due to excessive centrifugal forces . To avoid this process, valves are installed in the main steam line shortly before the turbine inlet . When these quick-closing valves are actuated, they direct the steam directly into the condenser , bypassing the turbine . At the same time, the reactor is shut down, as the condenser can only absorb full reactor power for a limited time. This turbine shutdown (TUSA) is, like every unplanned safety-relevant incident in German nuclear power plants, notifiable in accordance with AtSMV .

The machine house with the steam turbine is usually structurally separated from the actual reactor building. It is oriented in such a way that if a turbine is destroyed during operation, no debris will fly in the direction of the reactor.

In the case of a pressurized water reactor, the steam turbine is hermetically separated from the nuclear system. An activity measuring device is attached to the steam outlet of the steam generator in order to detect a leak in the steam generator and thus the transfer of radioactive water at an early stage. In the case of boiling water reactors, on the other hand, the steam turbine is also exposed to radioactive water and is therefore part of the control area of ​​the nuclear power plant.


Turbine generator in the Balakovo nuclear power plant .

The generator converts the kinetic energy provided by the turbine into electrical energy. It come down pole three-phase synchronous generators with high power rating is used. Generators of this type are also called turbo generators and, in combination with the steam turbine, form a turbine set . The largest synchronous generators to date have been manufactured for the EPR reactor blocks in the Taishan nuclear power plant . These have a rated apparent power of 2000 MVA and are of the GIGATOP-4 type. The generator output is connected to the machine and auxiliary transformers via the generator circuit breaker.


Machine transformers are used to adapt the generator output voltage to the mains voltage . In addition, these transformers can be used to extract energy from the grid when starting up . During operation, internal demand transformers are used to cover the electrical internal demand . The transformers used on site also take the power directly from the generator.

Main coolant pump (PWR) and forced circulation pump (BWR)

The main coolant pump of a pressurized water reactor (PWR) has the task of circulating the coolant between the reactor and the steam generator. Most western nuclear power plants have four main coolant pumps (corresponding to the number of loops), which are housed separately from each other in the reactor building for safety reasons. The pump is a centrifugal pump with a one-piece forged housing. The throughput is up to 10,000 l / s at a pressure of up to 175 bar and a maximum permissible temperature of 350 ° C. The pressure increase caused by the main coolant pump in the PWR corresponds to the pressure loss in the loop (reactor, steam generator and piping system). Even after failure of the main coolant pumps (which results in a reactor shutdown ), the circulation and thus the heat dissipation through so-called natural circulation is guaranteed.

In the boiling water reactor, forced circulation pumps are installed in the reactor pressure vessel, the design of which corresponds roughly to that in a PWR of the same size. They stabilize the flow and are integrated into the power control of the reactor via the speed control. With higher throughput, the vapor bubble content in the coolant drops, which increases reactivity . The pumps are not required for residual heat removal after shutdown, the natural circulation is then sufficient.

In addition to these main coolant pumps, a nuclear power plant usually has several emergency feeds at different pressure levels that maintain the cooling of the reactor core in the event of malfunctions (see design basis accident ).

Safety valves

In order to limit the pressure in the reactor pressure vessel upwards in the event of a malfunction, there are two independent safety valves. In nuclear power plants, there are always more facilities available to fulfill a safety function than are required to fulfill the protection goal; this principle is called redundancy . If these institutions work according to different principles (to fulfill the same task), one speaks of diversity . A power plant reactor has redundant and diverse safety valves.

In the pressurized water reactor, safety valves and relief valves are arranged in the primary circuit near the pressurizer. The pressure limitation is intended to prevent pipes or reactor pressure vessels from bursting. The capacity of the valves is such that they can divert the supplied volume flows with only a slight increase in pressure.

In the boiling water reactor, the steam is fed into the condensate chamber and condensed there. The chambers are connected to the intermediate cooling circuit via heat exchangers. If gas-vapor mixtures (possibly after filtering) are blown into the environment outside the containment, this is called venting (see also Wallmann valve ).

The safety valves in the PWR cannot be shut off in order not to endanger their safety-related function. Upstream of the safety valves in response pressure, however, there are independent relief valves for pressure limitation in the RKL. If necessary, such a valve can be shut off with an upstream or downstream further valve and thus avoid a coolant failure due to the blow-off valve not closing. Failure to close a relief valve led in 1979 (together with the closing of the shut-off valve that took place later) to a serious accident with a meltdown in the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant .

Feed water pumps

The feed water pumps have the task of the water from the feed water tank to bring the vapor pressure in the reactor and the steam generator and to promote the water with about 2200 kg / s. The required power is, for example, 20 MW per pump. The water level in the steam generator and nuclear reactor is regulated via the feed water system.

Load adjustment

In most nuclear power plants, especially in light water reactors, a rapid load adjustment in the range of 40-100% is possible at a rate of 2% / minute. A reduction to 30% power and a rate of 5% / minute are possible if the control rods are specially designed for this. Starting up from a shutdown power plant takes several hours and, due to xenon poisoning , up to a week after an emergency shutdown.

The load adjustment in pressurized water reactors takes place with the help of the concentration of boric acid in the coolant ( boron is a neutron poison ) and with the control rods . If the reactor is planned for frequent operation at part load, such as to adapt to renewable energy sources, then gray control rods , partially neutron-absorbing control rods, are installed. This enables a more homogeneous neutron distribution in the core with low power.

The load adjustment in boiling water reactors takes place primarily through the regulation of the cooling pumps: The slower the pumps work, the higher the temperature of the water in the core and the higher the steam content, the lower the moderator effect and thus the lower the output.

Although the load adjustment is technically possible, nuclear power plants are primarily operated at full load and other thermal power plants are used for load adjustment. The electricity costs from nuclear energy come largely from the construction and dismantling of the power plant and only about 20% from fuel; Since the service life of the reactor is usually limited to 30 to 60 years regardless of the operating load, operation at part load is often not economical. If nuclear power plants cover most of the electricity generation, as in France, load adjustment cannot be avoided. In Germany, the Philippsburg 1 (KKP 1) and Neckarwestheim I (GKN I) NPPs were almost continuously in load-following operation in 2009.

Emergency power supply

If necessary, in the event of a power grid failure, the emergency power supply allows the nuclear reactor to be shut down safely and the decay heat to be removed permanently . The emergency power supply is made up of multiple redundant diesel units and battery backups. The battery backup ensures the uninterrupted coupling of the diesel aggregates into the internal network of the power plant. Less important auxiliary systems such as trace heating of pipes are not supplied.


Operating mode

The articles nuclear power plant # operating mode and base load # suitability of nuclear power plants for load sequence operation overlap thematically. Help me to better differentiate or merge the articles (→  instructions ) . To do this, take part in the relevant redundancy discussion . Please remove this module only after the redundancy has been completely processed and do not forget to include the relevant entry on the redundancy discussion page{{ Done | 1 = ~~~~}}to mark. R.Schuster ( discussion ) 09:15, Oct. 1, 2013 (CEST)

In the case of nuclear power plants, the investment in construction is high; the costs during operation are comparatively low. It is therefore particularly economical to operate them as base load power plants as continuously as possible with maximum output . Changes in the load profile , which are attributed, among other things, to the increasing use of renewable energy sources and the liberalization of the electricity market , have resulted in nuclear power plants being used in load-following mode. In 2009, for example, this affected the Neckarwestheim 1, Phillipsburg 1, Phillipsburg 2, Biblis A power plants.The suitability of nuclear power plants for load control is limited, among other things, by the fact that a load change (power plant) in a nuclear power plant in normal operation is only within a range of 30% up to 100% of the nominal output can be carried out at speeds of around 2 to 5 percent of the nominal output per minute. The primary control of the power takes over the frequency control of the generator.

However, strong load changes are avoided as far as possible because

  • Caused by steam parameters, they can lead to local overheating of fuel assemblies with material embrittlement or crack formation,
  • caused by control rods, they lead to uneven burn-up of the fuel elements, which would change various reactor core parameters.

In order to minimize the associated risks, maintenance intervals would have to be shortened. This in turn would increase operating costs.

In 2011 8 of the 17 German nuclear reactors were decommissioned. It is controversial whether these are suitable for so-called load following operation.

A study carried out by the Institute for Energy Economics and Rational Energy Use of the University of Stuttgart in 2009 showed that the nuclear power plants in operation in Germany are quite suitable for load sequence operation and over a load range of 9.6 gigawatts with a load change rate of 3.8 to 5 , 2% / min can be driven. From the long version of this study it can be seen that the rate of load change in the nuclear power plants is between the more suitable gas-fired power plants and the less suitable coal-fired power plants. In order to compensate for the strongly fluctuating electricity generation from wind turbines, numerous nuclear power plants are now operated in load-following mode, as can be seen from the operating results published annually.

In 2009 the German nuclear power plants - including revision shutdowns and technical malfunctions - were on average 73% available on time and around 74% available for work . Daily electricity generation fluctuates, mainly due to revision shutdowns (and operational disruptions). In the course of 2009, around 53% to 89% of the installed nominal output was used to generate electricity.

Examples of pure base load operation are the Biblis B , Neckarwestheim II , Grafenrheinfeld and Emsland NPPs , which were operated almost continuously at full load outside of the revisions in 2009 . Examples of operation based on load requirements are the Brokdorf and Grohnde NPPs .


Most of the nuclear power plants in operation use enriched uranium (share of the 235 U isotope  approx. 3 to 4%) in the form of its oxide . Around 1 kg of natural uranium, with only around 0.7% fissile uranium-235 content, has an energy content like 12,600 liters of crude oil or 18,900 kg of hard coal. Each fuel element usually remains in the reactor for three years; The oldest third of the fuel elements is replaced every year because the 235 U content has fallen too far and, on the other hand, a content of neutron-absorbing fission products has built up. In addition, part of the non-fissile uranium isotope 238 U has been converted into plutonium by neutron capture , mainly into 239 Pu and a smaller amount 240 Pu.

This plutonium is suitable as a nuclear fuel. Its use can significantly increase the amount of energy that can be obtained from one kilogram of natural uranium. In order to use the plutonium, the fuel elements have to undergo reprocessing in which the fission products and the uranium that has not yet been used are separated. As in Germany, there are many power plants around the world with a license to use MOX fuel elements . Mixed oxide (MOX) is a mixture of uranium oxide and plutonium oxide. The use of higher proportions of plutonium in MOX is controversial because of the possibilities for proliferation and the higher safety requirements for a reactor operated with plutonium.

Without reprocessing spent fuel elements, a nuclear power plant can generate around 36–56 MWh of electricity from one kilogram of natural uranium, depending on the type of reactor and fuel cycle used  .

Taken together, the around 435 nuclear reactors in 31 countries around the world have the capacity to provide around 370 gigawatts of electrical power. This produces around 12,000 tons of radioactive waste per year , which also contains plutonium.

In 2008, nuclear power had a share of 5.5% of the total global consumption of primary energy .


In relation to the energy content of the 235 U converted in a fuel rod , the efficiency of a nuclear power plant is around 35%. In the case of light and heavy water reactors, the efficiency is limited by the limitation to comparatively low live steam temperatures of approx. 330 ° C (for comparison: the live steam temperature of a modern hard coal power plant is approx. 580 ° C). An increase in the live steam temperature in a nuclear power plant is difficult to achieve, since the high heat flux densities in the relatively compact reactors require the use of subcritical water.

The fact that a nuclear power plant is a large power plant also results in longer lines to the end user on average, which increases the total transmission losses; In Germany, around 6% of the electrical energy provided in the power grid is lost as a result of grid losses .

As with all energy generation systems , the efficiency of the entire system is reduced by the energy required to build, operate and dismantle the power plant. The cost of uranium mining is constantly increasing due to the scarcity of raw materials.

Carbon dioxide balance

Even if there are no CO 2 emissions whatsoever during nuclear fission itself , a nuclear power plant cannot be operated completely CO 2 -free when viewed holistically . CO 2 emissions arise primarily during the construction of the power plant, during demolition and disposal, as well as during uranium extraction and enrichment. Particularly in uranium extraction and enrichment, there are great differences in CO 2 emissions depending on the uranium concentration of the ore and the enrichment process.

According to a holistic comparison by the Ruhr University Bochum in 2007, the CO 2 emissions from nuclear energy are 10–30 g / kWh. In comparison, coal-fired power plants generate 750–1200 g / kWh, combined cycle power plants 400–550 g / kWh, photovoltaics 50–100 g / kWh, wind energy and hydropower 10–40 g / kWh and solar thermal in Africa 10–14 g / kWh.


Unit 4 of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant (2006)

In addition to the general accident risks of a large thermal power plant, special risks arise from the use of nuclear energy . The radioactivity of the fission products is particularly dangerous. Accidents can range from minor internal operational disruptions to a catastrophe with international consequences, as was the case with the Chernobyl disaster . Nuclear power plants can also be used as part of nuclear weapons programs.

Risk of radioactive material leakage

During normal operation, small amounts of radioactive material escape from the nuclear power plant through the exhaust stack into the environment. This material includes radioactive noble gases ( Krypton -85) and the unstable hydrogen isotope tritium , the escape of which is measured and is subject to conditions.

Accidents or disruption of the safety barriers can lead to large amounts of radioactive material entering the environment and the food chain. Many constructive measures serve to prevent this even if large parts of the reactor are inoperable or have been destroyed (see design basis accident ). An example of how incorrect operation can lead to a release of radioactivity occurred in 1987 at the Biblis NPP. A valve that was supposed to be closed during normal operation did not close. The operating team tried to "blow it free" by opening a test valve, which did not succeed. Cooling water from the primary circuit escaped through the test line . The radioactive contamination of the area around the nuclear power plant remained below the applicable limit values, as other barriers such as collecting basins and containment worked.

Risk of meltdown

Three Mile Island Nuclear Power Plant

Due to the extremely high energy density in the nuclear reactor, it is possible that if the cooling system fails, the reactor core will melt and thereby destroy itself. The consequences of the core meltdown can, depending on the exact circumstances, remain largely confined to the nuclear power plant or be the trigger for an uncontrolled leak of large amounts of radioactivity.

The accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in 1979 is an example of a limitation to the nuclear power plant. Here it was possible to stop the melting before the reactor pressure vessel was destroyed. The hydrogen produced during the melt was released into the atmosphere. With it the radioactive isotope 85 of the gas krypton (85-Kr, 10.75 years half-life ) escaped with an activity of about 1.665 · 10 15 Bq . Although 38 trials in the Loss-of-Fluid-Test (LOFT) reactor in the Idaho Test Area North (built 1965–1975) helped with the dimensioning of the emergency cooling systems, they were not conclusive in the event of a core meltdown, because there was never any The reactor core melted and the heat and radiation geometry of the 60 times larger commercial reactors could not be adequately reproduced. Research funding for the LOFT trials was difficult to come by and was diverted to fast breeder technology . In the accident in Chernobyl (1986) the reactor core promptly became supercritical , the meltdown tore the fuel rods open and formed hydrogen. Steam and hydrogen explosions destroyed the cover of the reactor and ejected parts of the radioactive fuel in the immediate vicinity of the power plant. A graphite fire ignited as a result led to the massive release of the radioactive inventory and generated a radioactive cloud that moved over large parts of Europe and rained down over some regions (for example the Arctic Circle, parts of Bavaria and Corsica) (“fallout”) . The political consequence of this disaster was the extensive halt to the expansion of nuclear energy in many Western European countries.

A core meltdown with uncontrolled release of radioactive material is called a worst-case scenario . A core catcher “core catcher” is intended to reduce the consequences of a possible core melt in systems from generation 3+, such as the Chinese nuclear power plant in Tianwan , and to catch the core before it sinks into the ground.

Disposal and final storage problems

The fission products and transuranic elements ( plutonium , americium , neptunium, etc.) produced during the operation must then be kept out of the biosphere for a longer period of time until they have largely disintegrated. This time ranges from a few months to many thousands of years, depending on the isotope . The fission products include the 0.7% iodine isotope 129 I with a half-life of 15.7 million years. Iodine and its isotopes are an essential trace element that the human organism actively absorbs, especially the thyroid . The main risk is a release during storage. With the help of reprocessing and transmutation , an attempt could be made to reduce the necessary storage time to a few hundred years, but the necessary systems and processes are also criticized and so far not ready for use.

Before final disposal , the spent fuel rods are chemically dissolved and separated into their components. With this conditioning, which takes place in reprocessing plants , radioactive material can get into the environment during operation as well as through accidents and errors. Spent nuclear fuel from German nuclear power plants is processed in the La Hague reprocessing plant on the French Channel coast and brought back to Germany for interim and final storage. The transport takes place with the help of Castor containers . Since 2005, the transport of spent fuel elements from German nuclear power plants has been banned by the Atomic Energy Act, so direct disposal is the only option.

Nuclear weapon proliferation

When operating nuclear power plants with uranium, plutonium is incubated . This can be used to make atomic bombs. In contrast to uranium, plutonium, which is suitable for building bombs suitable for military purposes ( weapons plutonium ), can be obtained using chemical processes from the fuel used by certain types of nuclear power plants; an enrichment system is not necessary. In the case of plutonium, the minimum quantity required for a bomb, the critical mass , is lower than that of uranium. The operation of nuclear power plants generally increases the risk of the proliferation of nuclear weapons . To minimize this, various international treaties have been concluded. The most important of these treaties is the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty .

Cases of illness related to nuclear power plants

The normal operation of nuclear power plants may also have an impact on human health. An epidemiological study on behalf of the Federal Office for Radiation Protection in 2007 showed a significantly increased leukemia rate in children near nuclear power plants. According to this, from 1980 to 2003 37 children were newly diagnosed with leukemia in a 5 km radius around the nuclear power plants in Germany - the statistical mean would have been 17 children. In the period under review, for the above reason, an average of around 0.8 more children per year developed leukemia in Germany; if other types of cancer are added, the figure is 1.2 children per year.

There is no agreement on the interpretation of this finding. The authors of the study are of the opinion that the ionizing radiation emitted by German nuclear power plants during normal operation can not be considered as the cause because of the many times higher natural radiation exposure. The external expert committee of the BfS for the KiKK study, on the other hand, is convinced that due to the particularly high radiation risk for small children and the insufficient data on emissions from power reactors, this connection can in no way be ruled out. Other studies, on the other hand, found little or no correlation between living near a nuclear power plant and the occurrence of cancer.

Terrorist attacks

Many German nuclear power plants are designed for an impact from a McDonnell F-4 weighing 20 tons. Civil aircraft with a much larger mass and fuel quantity were not taken into account in the approval process. The high force and rotation of the engines as well as the kerosene released by a fully fueled jet could lead to devastating explosions, fires and thus to coolant losses in the power plant, the exposure of fuel elements to a core meltdown . The Reactor Safety Commission (RSK), on the other hand, comes to the conclusion that even if a large airliner deliberately crashes onto a convoy system that is still in operation, the fuel elements (fuel assemblies) in the reactor and fuel pool are kept cool, so that releases are more radioactive Substances from BE damage are not to be expected.

Concrete shields of different thicknesses depending on the year of construction of the plant are mainly used against a terrorist attack from the air. To an intentional crash of a jumbo jet to defeat, can Nebelwerfer , guy ropes or baffles are installed, so that in case of an impact exits no radioactive material. Nebulization is rarely used because of its poor protective effect. Alternatively, the large-scale disruption of GPS navigation is considered. The Federal Constitutional Court in Germany prohibited the shooting down of an aircraft with bystanders by military interceptors .

Cyber ​​attack

On October 10, 2016, Yukiya Amano , head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), reported that attacks via the Internet that disrupt processes in nuclear power plants had long been a reality and mentioned a specific case of a cyber attack 2 to 3 years ago.

In 2014, uncritical data was stolen from a Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power Co Ltd power plant in South Korea.

During a study, a team from Kaspersky Lab discovered the most serious security gaps in the control systems for steam turbines from Siemens and other manufacturers.


Due to the very high initial investment, the enormous dismantling costs and the comparatively low running costs, the production costs for one megawatt hour of electricity are heavily dependent on the lifetime of a reactor. A comparison of producer prices to lignite , hard coal , hydropower , natural gas , wind energy and photovoltaics can be found under LCOE .

According to a study by Moody's, the investment costs for new nuclear power plants in 2012 are up to 4,900 € / kW, the offer for two new reactors in the Darlington nuclear power plant between 4,650 € / kW ( EPR ) and 6,850 € / kW ( Advanced CANDU Reactor ). The willingness to build new nuclear power plants without government support is therefore low. In 2009, CitiBank examined the financial viability of new nuclear power plants and other large-scale projects under market conditions and headed the study: "New Nuclear - The Economics Say No". In order to secure the future profitability of nuclear power plants for the operators, various subsidy measures are being considered.

The investments under construction since 2003 EPR in Olkiluoto nuclear power plant with a capacity of 1600 MW were Areva President Luc Oursel in December 2012 to 8.5 billion euros. The investment costs of the Flamanville 3 nuclear power plant, which is under construction at the same time, are also EUR 8.5 billion. Both projects saw significant cost increases during construction.

In Great Britain, construction costs for the Hinkley Point C double block, approved in March 2013, are estimated at 16 billion pounds (approx. 19 billion euros). In order to make the project profitable, the British government promised a guaranteed feed- in tariff of 92.5 pounds / MWh (approx. 11.2 cents / kWh) plus an annual inflation adjustment based on 2012 prices for 35 years after the commissioning, which is scheduled for 2022 . This is roughly double the current UK electricity exchange price and is below the feed-in tariff for large photovoltaic and offshore wind turbines and above the onshore wind turbines. All 4 reactor blocks are reactors of the EPR type , which represent the current state of nuclear technology in Europe. In October 2014, the EU Commission approved the subsidy for the construction of new reactors as compatible with EU competition law. The EU Commission is assuming construction costs of 31 billion euros, while the manufacturer and the British government are only talking about 19 billion euros.

The construction costs of the Monju breeder reactor in Japan, which operated between 1994 and 1995, amounted to around 4 billion euros.

A study published in 2003 by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found costs for new nuclear power plants of around 4.6 cents for one kilowatt hour. In 2009 the authors updated the study and concluded that the costs had risen to 5.8 cents / kWh. This means that there is still no cost advantage for nuclear power plants compared to coal-fired and gas-fired power plants under today's boundary conditions. Since then, there has been an enormous increase in investment costs. Whereas in 2003 the new nuclear power plants to be built were around 700 euros per kW of power, the costs in 2013 were around 5,000 euros per kW.

The costs for the dismantling of nuclear power plants are high because of the contaminated and activated parts of the plant, for which the energy supply companies have set up appropriate provisions. The forecast costs for the nuclear power plants currently being dismantled amount to 750 million euros (1302 MW) for the Mülheim-Kärlich nuclear power plant , Stade 500 million (672 MW), Obrigheim 500 million euros (357 MW) and Greifswald 3.2 billion euros (1760 MW) ).

A fund will be opened for the dismantling of Swiss nuclear power plants; after the Swiss power plants have run times of 27, 31, 38 and 41 years, the fund is only endowed with 1.3 billion of the 2.2 billion francs that were once charged for decommissioning. According to Handelszeitung, the nuclear industry is dispelling concerns about a funding gap due to assumed costs that are too low and despite the foreseeable lack of the necessary skilled workers. The possibility of a shutdown before the theoretically maximum possible operating time of the plants was not taken into account when calculating the fund.

In May 2014, plans by the three German nuclear power plant operators E.on, EnBW and RWE were made public to hand over their nuclear power plants to a state-owned foundation to be newly established. This is to operate the nuclear power plants until the end of their term and then act as a so-called bad bank and pay for the dismantling, final storage and all other risks. For this purpose, the operators want to bring in reserves amounting to approx. 30 billion euros, and there may also be claims for damages due to the nuclear phase-out in the billions.

Approval right

The construction and operation of a nuclear power plant as well as all essential changes up to decommissioning and dismantling must be approved in Germany under nuclear law. Section 7 “Approval of Facilities” of the Atomic Energy Act is essential here .

Since no new nuclear power plants are currently allowed to be built in Germany (see nuclear phase-out ), Section 7 of the Atomic Energy Act does not currently apply to the construction of new plants in practice.

In the nuclear licensing procedure for nuclear power plants, there is an obligation to carry out an environmental impact assessment (EIA) as part of the nuclear licensing procedure.

In addition, the regulations of the Euratom Treaty apply here . Art. 37 of the Euratom Treaty obliges each Member State to provide the EU Commission with certain information on the release of radioactive substances, including when new nuclear power plants are built or dismantled. The project may only be started after a statement by the EU Commission has been published.

The probability of occurrence and the severity of the effects of accidents in nuclear power plants are not immediately apparent. In order to provide the government and ministries with the factual information required for decisions, the Society for Plant and Reactor Safety was founded in the mid-1970s . One result of this state-owned research institute is the German Risk Study on Nuclear Power Plants , in which an attempt was made to realistically estimate the risk of accidents. It specifies the following values as the magnitude of the probability of occurrence for the Biblis B nuclear power plant : core meltdown once every 10,000 to 100,000 years, if internal emergency measures are taken into account, once every 100,000 to 1,000,000 years, core meltdown with significant contamination of the containment once every 1,000,000 to 100,000 years. 000 years. On the other hand, there is the Prognos study commissioned by the Federal Ministry of Economics in 1992, “Estimation of the damage caused by a so-called super-Gau”, which sees the probability of a super-GAU occurring at 33,333 years of operation per reactor or 1,666 years of operation for 20 reactors in Germany.

In view of the severity of the possible consequences of accidents, the license to operate nuclear power plants is generally tied to strict technical and organizational requirements that are monitored by the state. In Germany, the Atomic Energy Act obliges the operators of a nuclear power plant to always keep the necessary precautions against damage up to the " state of the art " in science and technology . Ministries are responsible for issuing permits. In Germany it was initially a state ministry and, at a higher level, the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU). The Federal Office for Radiation Protection (BfS) monitors the operation of nuclear facilities on its behalf . In the course of the amendment, from 2006 onwards, most of the responsibilities relating to licensing issues were transferred to the Federal Ministry.

Liability of the operators of nuclear power plants

The damage in the event of a nuclear disaster in Germany is quantified very differently. A study carried out by the Prognos Institute on behalf of the Federal Ministry of Economics in 1992 named the damage amount to around 2.5 to 5.5 billion euros. In practice, the amount of liability cannot be higher than the assets of the operating companies. The Atomic Energy Act in Germany (Section 13) stipulates a financial security of 2.5 billion euros, whereby the liability of the operator in the event of severe natural disasters of an exceptional nature, armed conflicts and similar incidents is limited to this amount by Section 26 of the same law. For a part of the financial security, the operator of the nuclear power plant can take out liability insurance with the atom pool , which is for max. EUR 256 million is due.

The German Institute for Economic Research sees the limited financial security as an implicit subsidy . Since the possible amounts of damage are many times higher, the state has to pay for any further damage (if it does not, the victims only receive a fraction of what they owe). However, if the power plant operators had to fully insure possible damage, their insurance premiums would be increased, which would have a direct impact on profitability. According to a Greenpeace study (2010), nuclear power would be up to 2.70 euros per kWh more expensive if the same liability rules apply to nuclear power plants as in all other economic sectors. According to calculations by financial mathematicians, a liability policy for a nuclear power plant would cost 72 billion euros annually. The price of electricity in a nuclear power plant could thus rise to more than forty times.

In Austria, the Atomic Liability Act 1999 (AtomHG) provides for strict liability of the operator of a nuclear installation for damage caused by ionizing radiation without any limitation on the amount of liability. (Note: there are no commercial NPPs in Austria, see nuclear energy by country # Austria )

In other EU countries, liability is limited to different amounts. The following amounts of liability were named in a response from the federal government to an inquiry in July 2008: Spain 700 million euros, in Belgium, Latvia, Romania and Sweden to around 330 million euros, and the Netherlands 313 million euros. Around 250 million euros in the Czech Republic, around 194 million euros in Finland, around 165 million euros in Great Britain, Poland and Slovenia and around 100 million euros in Hungary. The German government gives the liability amount for France at around 84 million euros, for Slovakia at around 82.5 million euros, for Denmark at around 66 million euros and for Bulgaria at 16.5 million euros. Italy's liability amounts to 5.5 million euros, according to the information, and that of Lithuania to 3.3 million euros.

In mid-2008 there were no legal regulations in the other EU states, partly because there are no nuclear power plants there.

On July 30, 2013, the EU Commission started the public consultation on the liability issue of nuclear power plants. In an interview in October 2013, EU Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger called for general liability insurance for nuclear power plants in Europe and announced that he would make a proposal in early 2014. The sum insured must be “as high as possible” and will be “certainly one billion euros or higher”. He would prefer "a realistic contribution to none at all." The compulsory insurance for nuclear power plants will "automatically lead to higher costs."

Emissions monitoring

The Atomic Energy Act requires operators to monitor emissions as well as notify the responsible state authorities. The Atomic Energy Act obliges the supervisory authorities, in addition to the handling and traffic of radioactive materials in general, to also monitor the construction, operation and possession of nuclear facilities in such a way that they are aware of compliance with the statutory provisions and their orders and orders based on these provisions can be convinced of the provisions of the decision on the approval and subsequent requirements by the operators of these systems. For this purpose, the federal states have partially authorized authorities. All measurements must be publicly available.

state responsible ministry commissioned authority NPP in operation (block)
State of Baden-Württemberg Ministry of the Environment, Nature Conservation and Transport GKN Neckarwestheim (2)
Free State of Bavaria State Ministry for Environment and Health KGG Gundremmingen (C) KKI Isar (2)
State of Lower Saxony Ministry of Environment and Climate Protection Lower Saxony State Agency for Water Management, Coastal Protection and Nature Conservation (NLWKN) KKE Emsland KWG Grohnde
State of Schleswig-Holstein Ministry of Justice, Equality and Integration Remote nuclear power plant monitoring Schleswig-Holstein (KFÜ-SH) KBR Brokdorf


In Germany, Kraftwerk Union AG was a manufacturer of nuclear power plants. KWU was founded in 1968/69 as a subsidiary of Siemens and AEG . In 1977 Siemens took over the shares in AEG. First of all, the KWU built five almost identical nuclear power plants with boiling water reactors ("Building Line 69"), namely Isar I , Brunsbüttel (near Hamburg), Philippsburg Block 1 and Krümmel nuclear power plant as well as the Austrian nuclear power plant in Zwentendorf , which never went into operation after a referendum. Other boiling water reactors built by KWU are Würgassen, Gundremmingen B and Gundremmingen C.

In the 1980s, the so-called convoy reactor line of KWU came into being: the pressurized water reactor power plants Isar 2 , Emsland and Neckarwestheim 2 . Abroad, the KWU was engaged by the construction of the nuclear power plant Gösgen in Switzerland and the construction of the nuclear power plant Zwentendorf in Austria (see also power reactors KWU ). Since the turn of the millennium, Siemens has gradually withdrawn completely from the nuclear energy business. The KWU is now part of the French Framatome .

Major international manufacturers of nuclear power plants include General Electric and Toshiba.


The current theoretically most powerful nuclear power plant in the world since 2003, with an installed in seven reactor units total capacity of 8,212  MW , the successively gone between 2007 and 2012 in long-term standstill Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant in Japan.

After more than 46 years, on March 31, 2003, Calder Hall -1, the NPP with the most British operating years to date, went offline. After the shutdown of the Oldbury nuclear power plant in England after 44 years of operation, the Beznau (CH) nuclear power plant near the Swiss-German border on the Upper Rhine is the longest-serving in the world with 46 years of operation so far (2016). At 38 years old, Fessenheim is the NPP with the most French operating years to date. Oyster Creek is the first large nuclear power plant in the US, the oldest US nuclear power plant still in operation and, at 46 years of age, the US with the most years of operation.

See also


  • Günter Kessler: Sustainable and safe nuclear fission energy. Technology and safety of fast and thermal nuclear reactors . Springer 2012, ISBN 978-3-642-11989-7
  • J. Hala, JD Navratil: Radioactivity, Ionizing Radiation and Nuclear Energy. Konvoj, Brno 2003, ISBN 80-7302-053-X .
  • Leonhard Müller: Handbook of energy technology. 2nd Edition. Springer, Berlin 2000, ISBN 3-540-67637-6 .
  • Adolf J. Schwab: Electrical energy systems - generation, transport, transmission and distribution of electrical energy. Springer, Berlin 2006, ISBN 3-540-29664-6 .

Web links

Commons : Nuclear Power Plant  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: nuclear power plant  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

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