German government rebukes utilities plan to dump decommissioning responsibilities

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After the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan, Germany accelerated its plans to cease using nuclear power to supply the nation’s energy needs.  The seven oldest nuclear power plants in Germany were taken offline shortly after the nuclear disaster in Japan and plans were made to close the remaining plants by 2022.

Over the last three years this decision has caused a rift between the government and utilities; who have faced off in courts over the government’s decision to close nuclear power plants and the legality of a nuclear fuel tax.

German utilities are struggling financially because of the success of renewable energy sources which have critically impacted the financial profitability of conventional power plants.

The financial woes have made many industry members concerned of the unpredictable nature of decommissioning nuclear power plants and led them to wonder if they could relieve themselves of the burdensome task of closing down and tearing down nuclear power stations and instead shift the risks to the public.

Recently, German utilities like EON, RWE, Vattenfall and EnBW, have been pushing for the creation and development of a public foundation which would manage the decommissioning of nuclear power facilities that would shoulder the burden of any unforeseen cost overruns and effectively cap the liability that the utilities are responsible for.

According to the plan presented, utilities would transfer the billions of euros that have been saved up to pay for the demolition and disposal of nuclear power facilities, and taxpayers would be responsible for any additional funds that may be necessary if there are cost overruns.

The proposal was immediately rejected by Barbara Hendricks, the environment minister in Germany, who told reporters “The full responsibility for the safe phasing out, closure, decommissioning and interim storage of nuclear waste lies with the energy companies.”

German Chancellor Angele Merkel also rejected the proposal saying “I am against shifting risks onto the state and taxpayers.”

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