* Operator ready to reload fuel rods into reactor core
* Regulator cites three-month-period for more detailed checks
* German nuclear output at record-low this quarter
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Germany's 1.4 GW Brokdorf nuclear reactor could remain offline longer than the already-delayed restart date at the end of March after the nuclear regulator rejected a request by the operator for a reloading of the reactor core, the responsible minister in the state of Schleswig-Holstein said.
On Tuesday, operator PreussenElektra postponed the restart date by one more week to March 27 and requested approval from the regulator for a reloading of the reactor core with a new charge of fuel rods following a "meticulous" investigation of all fuel rods after an "unusually thick oxide layer" was discovered on one fuel rod during a routine inspection.
"The Brokdorf nuclear power plant is now completely in accordance with regulations and will be ready in approximately two weeks following the completion of the remaining works to resume its contribution for a climate-friendly baseload supply [of electricity]," the E.ON unit said in a statement.
The regulator, the ministry for the environment in the state of Schleswig-Holstein, rejected the request, however, saying that according to its license a new reactor core would need to be registered with the regulator three months in advance to allow for a detailed assessment of all its safety parameters.
"Unfortunately, PreussenElektra's measures so far do not fully conform with our requirements," the environment minister Robert Habeck (Green Party) said in the statement detailing various steps needed to prove full compliance with all safety requirements.
According to the minister and its nuclear safety experts, the reason for the oxide layer discovered in February is not yet fully explained and proof that the affected fuel rods are coming from only one faulty charge is missing.
"Approval for a restart of the nuclear power plant can only be given once it is clear that the problem can't be repeated on other fuel rods," the regulator's statement concluded.
The Brokdorf reactor was taken offline for a refueling stop on February 4 during which the "unusually thick" oxide layer was discovered and reported to the regulator on February 20.
German reactor availability this winter has been at the lowest level since the early 1980s due to unprecedented refueling stops following the expiry of the nuclear fuel tax at the end of 2016.
Nuclear output in January and February was down 32% on year at 10.2 TWh, grid operator data shows with the combined output loss from all outages across the seven reactors offline this winter now estimated above 8 TWh.
--Andreas Franke, firstname.lastname@example.org
--Edited by Maurice Geller, email@example.com