In September 2010, following long and public discussions, the ruling coalition of Germany's Christian Democratics and the Liberals reached an agreement to extend the licenses of nuclear reactors built prior to 1980 by eight years and the licenses of nuclear reactors built after 1980 by 14 years.
These arrangements were thrown into doubt following the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan and the rise of the anti-nuclear movement to a level not seen since the 1980s. In March 2011, after intense debate in Germany over the pros and cons of nuclear energy, the government imposed a three-month "moratorium" on nuclear energy in Germany, ordering seven nuclear reactors to shut down. At the same time, an ethics commission set up by Chancellor Merkel was instructed to review and evaluate the future of Germany's energy supply.
Although all operators complied with the shutdown order under the three-month moratorium, RWE, the second-largest energy company in Germany, filed a lawsuit challenging the moratorium. The company, which was required to shut down its Biblis A reactor, argued that there was no legal basis for the shutdown. This view has been publicly supported by a number of German legal experts. The German government, on the other hand, argues that the moratorium is permissible under the German Atomic Energy Act, although the law was initially intended mainly to cover emergency shutdowns in case of safety concerns.
With the moratorium coming to an end in May of this year, the German government announced a roadmap to shut down all nuclear reactors in the country by 2022. According to this plan, all nuclear plants must go offline by the year 2021, provided that if the transition to non-nuclear energy sources (mainly renewable energy) does not go as planned, three nuclear plants may continue in operation until 2022 to cover potential shortfalls. The plan further provides for one nuclear plant (likely Biblis B or Philippsburg I) to be kept on "standby" to produce extra energy when needed, such as on cold, gray winter days with little solar energy available and insufficient energy available for import from neighboring countries. However, it is unclear whether (and if so, how) a nuclear plant can be efficiently operated in a standby mode.
The roadmap has been heavily criticized from all sides as being either too ambitious or not ambitious enough. Industry has criticized the plan as bearing a significant risk, mainly to German manufacturing locations. Legally, concerns have been voiced that the proposed roadmap may be unconstitutional, unless energy suppliers are compensated for losses resulting from no longer being able to operate their nuclear plants. At this stage, it seems likely that any final decision will be made by the German Federal Constitutional Court (Bundesverfassungsgericht).