The Nuclear Garbage Man

Power transmission lines hang from an electricity pylon as a cooling tower emits vapor into the night sky at Emsland Nuclear Power plant, operated by RWE AG, in Emsland, Germany, on Friday, July 31, 2015. In one of the most ambitious political undertakings of a modern industrial economy, Germany is shutting down all its nuclear power plants by 2022. Photographer: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg
Germany's nuclear power plants, like this one in Emsland operated by RWE, are being shut down. Companies and the government have now agreed a plan for dealing with their waste.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Before Germany can phase out nuclear energy, the federal government and power companies must first decide how to dispose of the waste that is left over.

  • Facts


    • The German government will take responsibility for disposing of the nuclear companies’ waste in exchange for a payment in the billions of euros.
    • A commission tasked with estimating the financial obligations of the nuclear companies for the phaseout has put the bill at €23.3 billion, which has to be adjusted for 2016.
    • The nuclear companies –  Vattenfall, E.ON, RWE and EnBW – have set aside €39 billion so far.
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The German government has reached an agreement on who should bear the cost and responsibility for atomic waste disposal after Germany phases out its nuclear power plants in the coming decade, according to Handelsblatt sources in parliament.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s chief of staff, Peter Altmaier, and the relevant deputy ministers met on Monday in Berlin where they cleared up their remaining differences on when the four energy companies can turn over their nuclear waste and how much it should cost them.

The deal marks the latest chapter in Germany’s ambitious shift to safer, renewable sources of energy.

Last April, the commission said that the energy companies should pay €23.3 billion ($25.6 billion) for the government to store the waste from their nuclear plants.

In the aftermath of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, the German government led by Ms. Merkel’s center-right Christian Democrats agreed to phase out nuclear energy by 2022.

Under the latest deal, the federal government will take responsibility for the disposal of Germany’s atomic waste, in exchange for a payment in the billions of euros from the companies that operate the country’s nuclear power plants – Vattenfall, E.ON, RWE and EnBW.

The final sum will be based on proposals made by a commission tasked with calculating the costs of Germany’s exit from nuclear energy. Last April, the commission said that the energy companies should pay €23.3 billion ($25.6 billion) for the government to store the waste from their nuclear plants.

The commission’s estimate, however, was based on 2014 figures and needs to be adjusted for 2016. In total, the four nuclear companies have set aside €39 billion in reserves so far.

The energy companies have also reached an agreement with the Environment Ministry on the timetable for turning over their nuclear waste to the German government. As soon as the companies have safely packaged the waste from their power plants, they can turn it over to state authorities.

Though the details of the agreement still have to be finalized and written into law, the cabinet is expected to approve a draft next week.

At the end of September, the commission – led by Ole von Beust of the center-right Christian Democrats, Matthias Platzeck of the center-left Social Democrats and Jürgen Trittin of the Greens – called on the German government to quickly implement the commission’s proposals.

Delays will only increase the cost to the four energy companies, according to the commission. If an agreement on nuclear waste disposal isn’t reached by the end of the year, the upcoming 2017 federal elections could lead to to even longer delays.


Dana Heide is a political correspondent for Handelsblatt based in Berlin. To contact the author: heide@handelsblatt.com

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