Clean-up Costs

Nuclear Legacy Adds to Deutsche Bahn Woes

  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Heavily indebted Deutsche Bahn needs to find an additional €170 million to top up its contribution to nuclear waste disposal.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • Deutsche Bahn draws 16 percent of its entire energy needs from nuclear power.
    • Germany plans to shut down all of its nuclear plants by 2022.
    • The company says that 40 percent of its current energy needs come from renewable sources.
  • Audio

    Audio

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Germany’s Operational Nuclear Power Plants Ahead Of 2022 National Shut Down
The cost of its nuclear power use is looming over Deutsche Bahn. Source: Getty Images

Germany’s state-owned railway operator, Deutsche Bahn, will pay €350 million ($371 million) into a fund that finances the disposal of nuclear waste, the company has confirmed.

The company will pay into the fund because it receives around 16 percent of its energy needs from nuclear power. Until 2011, the share was even higher at nearly a quarter, supplied by the Neckarwestheim nuclear plant operated by utility EnBW near Stuttgart.

That’s a little known fact that jars with the company’s stated commitment to Germany’s green energy revolution, which aims to render the country wholly independent of fossil power by 2050.

Under Germany’s plan to phase out nuclear energy by 2022, the four major energy companies are required to pay billions into a fund to dispose of atomic waste from their nuclear plants.

“Without the railway the energy revolution wouldn’t be possible,” Deutsche Bahn chief Rüdiger Grube recently told Handelsblatt in an interview. “We already run 90 percent on electric power and 40 percent of our energy comes from renewable sources.”

The rail operator will have to tap into its reserves to cover the €350 million next year.

The company aims to increase its use of renewables to 45 percent by 2020, with further increases after that. Its strategy envisages it as an “energy pioneer,” which is an important advertising tool. But it will also go on procuring nuclear power right until the last reactor is shut down in 2022.

The rail operator will have to tap into its reserves to cover the €350 million next year. It had already set aside cash to cover costs associated with shutting down the EnBW plant, but will now have to top it up by an additional €170 million.

Last April, a commission tasked with calculating the cost of Germany’s nuclear exit said the energy companies should pay €23.3 billion into the nuclear clean-up fund. The federal government will handle the actual disposal of the waste.

The German parliament is set to vote Thursday on a law that will regulate Germany’s nuclear clean up.

Deutsche Bahn has been using electricity from Neckarwestheim for decades, covering a large part of its energy requirements in southwestern Germany.

Until 2011 it purchased almost 300 megawatts, a sizeable portion of the plant’s output of around 2,000 megawatts. Reactor Block 1, an ageing reactor which went into operation in 1976, delivered 155 megawatts to Deutsche Bahn while Block 2 supplied 140 megawatts.

After the Fukushima nuclear accident in 2011, which prompted the German government to speed up its nuclear phaseout just months after it had decided to extend reactor lifespans, Block 1 was immediately taken off the grid. Block 2, which is more modern and only went into operation in 1989, can go on producing power until the end of 2022. It will be one of the last reactors to be switched off in Germany, and Deutsche Bahn will likely go on using nuclear power from it until then.

It has no real alternatives because it requires a special kind of electricity that Neckarwestheim is designed to provide. German trains operate on power distributed at a lower frequency of 16.7 Hertz compared with the usual 50 Hertz.

Deutsche Bahn’s contract with EnBW provides for a reliable energy supply but in return commits the company to cover some of the costs of running the plant, dismantling it and disposing of nuclear waste.

EnBW has said it will have to pay €4.7 billion into the nuclear fund and is having trouble raising that money. It will recoup part of that from Deutsche Bahn, much to the annoyance of Mr. Grube.

He has said it’s just one of an array of “politically caused additional costs” which will total €2.5 billion and include the cost increases for the controversial  “Stuttgart 21” project to modernize Stuttgart’s main train station, the country’s green energy revolution and noise reduction measures.

He has cited those costs as justification for the €2.4 billion financial injection Deutsche Bahn is to get from the federal government. It needs the cash to keep its debt from breaking the €20-billion level and to finance future investments.

Mr. Grube had originally planned to raise up to €4.5 billion by selling 40 percent of U.K.-based transport unit Arriva and logistics company Schenker in initial public offerings in 2017. But the government blocked the sell-off.

Deutsche Bahn won’t be the only company that has to contribute to the nuclear fund alongside the big nuclear plant operators E.ON, RWE, EnBW and Vattenfall. Some municipal utilities, for example in Munich and Bielefeld, are also likely to be tapped.

 

Jürgen Flauger covers the energy market for Handelsblatt, including electricity and gas providers, international market developments and energy policy. Dieter Fockenbrock is Handelsblatt’s chief correspondent for the companies and markets desk, focusing on corporate governance, opinion and rail transport. To contact the authors: flauger@handelsblatt.com, fockenbrock@handelsblatt.com

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