U.S. Energy Information Administration logo
Skip to sub-navigation
February 16, 2023

Germany extends the life of its last three operating nuclear power plants until April

Germany nuclear power plants, by reactor status
Data source: Bundesamt für die Sicherheit der nuklearen Entsorgung (BASE); International Atomic Energy Agency
Note: Excludes some small (less than 50 megawatts) reactors and research reactors.

In October 2022, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz ordered his government ministers to prepare a plan to keep the country’s last three operating nuclear power plants, which were originally scheduled to close at the end of 2022, operating until April 2023.

The decision to keep the plants operating until spring resulted from concern over possible power shortages in Germany this winter because of the significant drop in natural gas imports from Russia.

In Germany, almost half of homes are heated with natural gas, and its industrial sector also consumes large volumes of natural gas. Because Germany produces relatively little natural gas, it imports the majority of the natural gas it consumes, much of which has historically come from Russia. In 2021, the year before Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, 55% of Germany’s natural gas imports came from Russia. Natural gas accounted for 15% of German electricity generation in 2021.

To ensure adequate resources to meet electricity demand this winter, the German government sought to keep all possible domestic electric-generating capacity available through the spring. The three nuclear plants account for about 6% of Germany’s electricity mix and have a combined 4,055 megawatts (MW) of capacity.

Germany, nuclear power capacity
Data source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, International Energy Statistics—Germany; International Atomic Energy Agency

Nuclear energy has been a source of much debate and political discord in Germany since the 1970s, particularly after the Chernobyl disaster in 1986. Despite growing opposition to nuclear power in Germany, the exact timeline for the country’s exit from nuclear power has shifted and been subject to several policy reversals. Following the Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan in 2011, the German government ordered the immediate shutdown of 8 of the country’s 17 operating nuclear reactors and announced a plan to completely phase out all nuclear power by the end of 2022. From 2012 to 2022, another 14 reactors were shut down, including 3 at the end of 2021.

Although the German parliament approved the decision to keep the three remaining nuclear reactors operating through the winter, the extension stipulates that the reactors will be shut down by April 15, 2023, and that it will not grant any further extensions to the operating life of the reactors.

As part of the country’s long-term energy strategy, Germany plans to replace the lost nuclear capacity, as well as coal capacity, which will be phased out by 2038, with renewables. Natural gas plants will be used as a bridge technology for the years between the phase out of nuclear and coal and the full buildout of renewables. Because of the natural gas supply issues, the country has also had to extend the operating life of some coal power plants and restart other coal plants that had previously been shuttered to help ensure the country has the energy resources it needs for this winter.

Principal contributor: Elesia Fasching