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German cabinet says Bundesrat will play no part in nuclear extension decision

28 Sep 2010 15:26:05 | edem

The German cabinet on Tuesday put a stop to rumours that the country's upper house, the Bundesrat, will have to approve life extensions of the 17 nuclear power plants, saying the deal does not change the states' workload.

"Amendments to the nuclear energy law are only subject to Bundesrat's authorisation if a task of essentially different meaning and scope is created for the federal states," the government said in a statement.

The cabinet said a mere quantitative increase in task load - such as longer operating lives of nuclear power plants - does not need to be approved as the original task has not been altered by the decision.

Although the German government approved the nuclear life extension when it came to power in September last year (see EDEM 28 September 2009), a regional election in May left the coalition without a firm grip on the Bundesrat and critics of nuclear power were quick to point out that the deal might be off (see EDEM 10 May 2010).

This decision is part of a wide array of new energy proposals that form the country's energy concept with the controversial life-span extension of the country's nuclear plants, and the much-debated levies that utilities will have to pay in return, attracting most of the attention.

In the document approved by Merkel's cabinet on Tuesday, ministers confirmed that nuclear power plants built before 1980 can operate eight years longer than planned, while newer plants will operate up to 14 years longer. That would mean the last nuclear reactor would go offline sometime in the 2030s.

Taxing matters

In return, the government stated that nuclear power plant operators - E.ON , RWE , EnBW and Vattenfall - will be obliged to invest in heightened security systems at their plants as well as pay some 60% of the revenues created by longer life-spans to the government.

This means utilities will pay €2.3bn/year by 2016 in the form of a nuclear fuels tax, which will be used to cover some of the country's deficit, while an additional €1.4bn will be paid into a government renewables fund through to 2016.

As of 2017, the nuclear tax will no longer be in effect, but utilities will pay a charge of €9.00/MWh as compensation for profits made by the nuclear life extensions, the government said.

Erasing carbon footprints

The government's energy strategy also includes targets for drawing more power from renewable energy and cutting carbon emissions by 80% by 2050 - already outlined in the first draft of the energy concept (see EDEM 8 September 2010) - as well as renovating power grids and improving efficiency by 2050.

Today's approval is the last step before the parliamentary debate on the energy concept begins on Friday with German nuclear operators welcoming the concept and municipalities condemning it.

"The energy plan outlines a step-by-step transition from today's mainly fossil-fuelled energy supply to a low-carbon future, based mainly on renewables. This is extremely ambitious," said Johannes Teyssen, chairman of the board of management of E.ON in a statement, while EnBW said particular attention must now be paid to the country's grid system.

In contrast, the German federal association for new energy operators, BNE, said the concept has cemented the dominant position of the four major power utilities: "A paragraph on the strengthening of the competition added to the energy concept in the last-minute is just a fig leaf", the association said in a statement. MU

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