Liability change

Power Firms Can't Escape Nuclear Fallout

Brokdorf power station Source Thomas Raupach
Old nuclear power plants just got a whole lot more expensive for some power firms.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Germany is phasing out nuclear power but the cost of its atomic legacy is largely unknown, and could multiply many times.

  • Facts


    • The proposed law would expand liability of the big power companies – E.ON, RWE, EnBW and Vattenfall.
    • Vattenfall AB, the Swedish parent of the German subsidiary Vattenfall, changed its legal structure in 2012 to cut off liability within Germany.
    • Under current law, E.ON is only liable for five years if reserves for dismantling nuclear plants are insufficient.
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The German government is planning to change the law to ensure power companies can’t duck out of paying for the safe dismantling of nuclear reactors and disposal of radioactive waste, according to a draft bill obtained by Handelsblatt.

The proposal for “independent additional liability under nuclear law” is expected to be approved by the German cabinet on September 23. It will prevent utilities from restructuring old companies and subsidiaries to avoid responsibility for decommissioning.

Germany decided after the Fukushima disaster in 2011 to fully phase out nuclear and fossil-fuel plants and move to renewable energies. But the issue of funding for the decommissioning of reactors and storing waste has not yet been settled – and for months has caused friction between the political establishment and the energy industry.

Doubts have been raised over whether the four big power companies – E.ON, RWE, EnBW and Vattenfall – could come up with the required reserves of €39 billion, or about $44 billion. There are also questions of whether it would be enough.

The proposed legislation is supposed to make sure “that assets of the entire company, one part of which are the operating companies, can be accessed to cover the costs of disposing of nuclear waste,” according to the Ministry for Economic Affairs. The additional liability is based on the fact “that an operating company is controlled by a parent company.”

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