German taxpayers may have to pay nuclear power producers billions of euros compensation for early closure

Keine Steuerbefreiung für AKW

German taxpayers may have to pay nuclear power producers billions of euros compensation for the government order to shut them down by 2022, the country’s highest court has ruled. The Federal Constitutional Court (Bundesverfassungsgericht) hasn’t put a figure on the entitlement, but the industry talks about 19 billion euros. “May have to pay” because the Eon, RWE und Vattenfall companies, who brought the case, may prefer to use the entitlement as a bargaining chip in the ongoing acrimonious dispute over who pays for disposing of nuclear waste, the producers of it or the public. That is, credit the entitlement against whatever disposal cost is set.


Public money helped set up nuclear power, in the end, in one way or another, public money will also pay for the “cleanup”, if that’s possible at all with nuclear waste, for which no supposedly “safe” disposal system has been created anywhere on the globe.


On 15 December the Social Democrat-Christian Democrat (conservative) coalition government passed a law regulating the follow-on costs of nuclear power, which a leading regional newspaper has blasted as “a nasty deal at the taxpayers’ expense”. About 70% of Germans regularly reject nuclear power in opinion polls. 140,000 people have so far signed a petition “We’re not paying for your waste”.


Activists argue that the 23 billion euros the power pruducers had previously put aside for the cleanup and now have to transfer into a government controlled fund lets them off the hook with any unforeseen events, with disposal costs certain to skyrocket. To cover those unknowns the producers have to add another 6 billion. By the end of the century there’s to be 100 billion in the fund.


Activists are especially mad at Jürgen Trittin, a senior Green and former environment minister, who co-headed the group that wrote the law. Trittin knows that the cleanup funds fall far short of what’s needed, wrote Jochen Stay, a leading activist.


Parliament will also decide to scrap a tax on nuclear fuel on 1 January. The Social Democrats have said they’ll campaign in next year’s election to bring the tax back in, but if they have to share government with the conservatives again, that’s likely to gurgle down the drain again like it did in the present coalition.


“The Bundestag will decide today that in future the general public will have to pay for the nuclear waste, and not those who for years made billions with their nuclear power stations. The power companies can buy themselves out with a once-only payment. At the same time the parliament is highly likely to throw out a motion to extend the tax on nuclear fuel,” says a statement put out by Stay’s .ausgestrahlt group.


Back to the compensation judgement of 6 December: “By rescinding the running time extension of 2010 the lawmakers considerably reduced risks by achieving closure of the nuclear power stations 12 years sooner on average,” the judges wrote, finding the government’s move basically constitutional. 


After the Fukushima disaster in March 2011 the government of Angela Merkel, backed by the then opposition Social Democrats and Greens took back the longer running times allocated only in December 2010 and set closure dates for each of the 17 nukes. Eight closed immediately, nine are due in 2020.


The power companies argued this as an uncompensated and unconstitutional expropriation.


No, said the constitutional court, but you are entitled to some compensation. That’s it in a nutshell. Even legal experts are still puzzling out the nitty gritty of the ruling.