Germany’s largest energy companies have launced a counteroffensive in the debate over nuclear reserves ahead of a commission meeting today.
The commission, appointed by the German government, is tasked with finding sustainable solutions for the decommissioning of nuclear plants and storage of nuclear waste. Energy utilities E.ON and RWE sent commission members a report, prepared by the law firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, which takes an extremely critical view of the current proposals on reserves management.
The agenda of today’s committee meeting includes a presentation by the same experts who had already prepared an earlier report on the issue for the German Economy Ministry. The experts include auditors with Warth & Klein Grant Thornton. In early October, they submitted a “stress test,” which concluded that reserves of approximately €39 billion ($41.8 billion) held by the four operators of nuclear power plants are sufficient to cover the demolition of nuclear power plants and the storage of nuclear waste.
A second report for the Economy Ministry, prepared by the firm Becker Büttner Held (BBH), addresses the issue of how to ensure that the reserves are indeed available in an emergency. The BBH experts argue that the reserves should not be held by the plant operators, to ensure that they are protected against bankruptcy and transformations under company law.
They conclude that an “external fund solution is a more suitable means to achieve the objectives,” at least for a portion of the reserves. They recommend a fund, governed by public law, which would contain a portion of the reserves. The funds could be deposited “gradually or in full.”
“The cold sweat of nuclear power plant operators oozes from the Freshfields report.”
The Freshfields experts are critical of BBH, arguing that it paints “a bleak picture of a supposedly inadequate legal situation and insufficient financial preparedness.”
According to the Freshfields experts, the BBH experts’ assumption that the operators, pursuant to the polluter pay principle and on the basis of the current legal situation, are solely responsible for shutdown, demolition and disposal, is incorrect. They argue that historical developments and the current legal situation show that the responsibility is “divided between operators and the government.”
According to Freshfields, the BBH proposals boil down to “preparing for the government’s complete abdication of its responsibility and to unload all costs, including costs that are unnecessary from a safety standpoint, onto the nuclear energy economy.” The BBH report, say the Freshfields experts, legitimizes “privatizing the financial consequences of risks for which the government is responsible.” They argue that the distorted picture BBH paints must be “turned upside down.”
“The cold sweat of nuclear power plant operators oozes from the Freshfields report,” said a commission member, using language that is uncharacteristically clear and constitutes a significant departure from the sober and detached language of legal opinions.
German nuclear power plant operators feel pressured in the debate over the management of reserves. The operators are not represented on the commission, which is intended to find solutions from the management of reserves.
The Freshfields report was commissioned by E.ON and RWE. However, this does not follow from the report itself but merely from an email to the commission members that was attached to the report as a PDF.
At the end of their report, the Freshfields experts advocate dispensing with legislative measures and instead seeking consensual solutions with the operators that “are unproblematic from the standpoint of constitutional law and politically acceptable.”