Brunsbuttel Nuclear Power Plant, Germany

The Brunsbuttel Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) is located on the west coast of the Dithmarschen area of Schleswig-Holstein on the banks of the Lower Elbe, 3km east of Brunsbรผttel. It is the first nuclear power plant in Schleswig-Holstein.

The Brunsbuttel plant is owned by German firms Vattenfall Europe Nuclear Energy (66.7%) and E.ON Kernkraft (33.3%). It is operated by Kernkraftwerk Brunsbรผttel GmbH (KKW Brunsbรผttel). The plant’s gross power production is 806MW and net production is 771MW.

The first controlled nuclear fission at Brunsbรผttel NPP was carried out in June 1976 while commercial power generation was started in February 1977. In June 2007, the plant was shut down because of short circuit problems. Some of the technical issues were fixed in 2007 but the plant is still undergoing installation of equipment required for proper safety measures, and will be operational on completion. The expected reopening date has not yet been finalised.

Germany has decided to phase out the existing nuclear power plants in the country under its Nuclear Exit Law. As per the policy, all nuclear reactors in Germany are to be closed by 2021. The German coalition government, however, reviewed the decision and voted in favour of delaying the programme beyond 2021. The decision has paved the way for expansion of the life span of existing nuclear facilities. The Brunsbรผttel plant will therefore benefit from being operational for longer.

Brunsbรผttel NPP has a workforce of 300 employees at the plant, which includes those providing the plant with equipment and services.

Plant make-up

Brunsbuttel NPP is one of two nuclear power plants owned by Vattenfall in Germany.

“Brunsbuttel NPP is one of two nuclear power plants owned by Vattenfall in Germany.”

The plant was designed according to the “defence-in-depth” principle to provide multiple layers of protection. The design was aimed at preventing damage and to ensure that the reactor remains under control in case of a malfunction or in the unlikely event of an accident.

The plant structure includes a turbine building 100m long and a reactor building housed adjacent to the turbine building. The reactor pressure vessel containing the reactor core is next to the turbine building.

The plant uses uranium as its fuel, as it guarantees a continuous supply of power, is economical and is environmentally friendly. The plant employs a boiling water reactor for power generation.

The cooling water used in the turbine condenser of the plant is sourced from the River Elbe, which is in the proximity of the plant.
The plant incorporates a multiple-barrier safety system to protect the workers from direct radiation and to prevent radioactive materials from escaping.

In addition, the plant is equipped with an emergency standby system that includes a standby control room. The standby control room is housed in a separate building and powered by two extra diesel generators.


The powerhouse is equipped with a boiling water reactor (BWR). The BWR is a nuclear reactor that was developed by the Idaho National Laboratory and General Electric during the mid-1950s and is used in electricity generation. The BWR uses demineralised water as a coolant and neutron moderator.

The uranium consumed by the plant to generate electricity is less than other fuels such as oil, coal and natural gas. A ton of uranium generates the energy equivalent of 400,000 barrels of oil. The nuclear fuel emits no combustion products into the environment.

“Out of the total energy produced in Germany, about 26.3% is contributed by nuclear power plants.”

The core of the Brunsbรผttel NPP reactor includes 532 fuel elements that contain the nuclear fuel uranium. Uranium pellets are fissioned to generate the heat required to boil water. Fission is a process of converting atoms into tiny particles called neutrons. The faster the splitting takes place, higher is the heat generated. Fission takes place within the nuclear reactor vessel.

Heat is produced by nuclear fission in the reactor core and this causes the cooling water to boil, producing steam. The steam is directly used to drive a turbine, after which it is cooled in a condenser and converted back to liquid water.

To safely store the spent fuels the Brunsbรผttel plant constructed an on-site interim storage facility.

Germany’s power market

Out of the total energy produced in Germany, about 26.3% is contributed by nuclear power plants. Nuclear energy contributes the highest percentage to total power generation in Germany.

Brunsbรผttel NPP generates 6TWh of electricity per year. The power generated is about 20% of the total power generated in Schleswig-Holstein.

The power generated by the Vattenfall Group can cater the needs of about 50 million households. Apart from the three Germany-based nuclear power plants Brunsbuttel, Krรผmmel and Brokdorf, Vattenfall operates seven more nuclear reactors at its Forsmark and Ringhals sites in Sweden.