Legal concerns regarding the lifetime extension of nuclear power plants

Given Russia's invasion of Ukraine, discussions concerning lifetime extension of nuclear power plants emerged in various countries in Europe. While Germany ultimately considered the risks of nuclear power plants too high to justify the continuation of nuclear energy production, the Belgian government announced to postpone their plans to shut down their nuclear power plants by another ten years. However, according to the two key international conventions concerning nuclear power plants (The Espoo Convention and the Aarhus Convention), a lifetime extension requires an environmental impact assessment including full public participation and cannot simply be decided unilaterally by the respective government. The LTE-Guidelines of the Espoo-Konvention clarify that a lifetime extension has, in principle, similar effects to a new nuclear power plant and must therefore be subject to an environmental impact assessment.  Additionally, the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee (ACCC) has also found in various cases that a lifetime extension implies a change in the operating conditions of a nuclear power plant. Consequently, member states must comply with the requirements of public participation under Article 6 of the Aarhus Convention.

The Reduction of the “Gipslöcher” Nature Reserve is unconstitutional

In 2019, the Vorarlberg provincial government established the removal of partial areas from a nature conservation area called "Gipslöcher" in Lech by means of an ordinance. The reason for the removal was the planned construction of a chairlift for the nearby ski resort, which would have required a spanning of the nature reserve. In its decision of 15 December 2021, the Austrian Constitutional Court annulled the amendment of the ordinance. The Court ruled that before reducing the size of a protected area, a balancing of interests must be carried out. Furthermore, Article 11 para 1 of the Nature Conservation Protocol of the Alpine Convention is to be applied in the case of changes to protected area boundaries. The Protocol is furthermore relevant in the context of the weighing decision by the public authority, according to the Constitutional Court.