The difficulties of decommissioning German NPPs

24 February 2016

Germany is willing to protect its utility companies from the risks of rising costs linked to the nuclear phase-out policy, according to a draft report from a government-appointed committee seen by Reuters on 22 February. The report recommends that E.ON (EONGn.DE), RWE (RWEG.DE), EnBW (EBKG.DE) and Vattenfall [VATN.UL] transfer the provisions set aside to pay for interim and final storage of nuclear waste in cash to a government-controlled fund by 2022.

The committee also raised the possibility that the power companies should remain liable for up to €36bn ($39.7bn) in costs for storage. To date the utilities have set aside around €18bn for this purpose.The commission's proposals suggested it was willing to set a ceiling on how much they may have to pay to fund the nuclear exit, Reuters said.

The government is currently examining how it can safeguard some €39bn in provisions set aside by the utilities to fund the dismantling and storage of waste from their NPPs, the last of which will be closed in 2022. The committee is investigating how best to protect the provisions and ensure the burden does not fall on taxpayers while also keeping the utilities financially viable. It is due to present the report at the end of this month.

The draft report recommends that the utilities should remain responsible for dismantling the NPPs but that the state should take charge of the interim and final storage of nuclear waste by means of a government-controlled fund. The utilities should retain €17.7bn in provisions and will also need to set aside a further €1.3bn. The report also calls on the power firms to make sure their provisions are more transparent. It recommends that German utilities drop their various lawsuits against the forced shutdown of NPPs.

Meanwhile, EnBW has received permits for the construction of decommissioning infrastructure at its Neckarwestheim NPP and plans to start building a residual material treatment centre and an interim site-waste storage facility. EnBW applied for the construction and operation of the two facilities at Neckarwestheim in March 2014. Building permits have now been issued by the District Office Heilbronn, EnBW announced on 22 February. The company said it would take some two-and-a-half years to build and commission the two facilities.

Wastes generated during the decommissioning of Neckarwestheim will be processed to minimiset the volume of radioactive waste and, following treatment, only about 1% of the total will be classified as highly-radioactive waste. The rest will be of the low- to intermediate-level which can be stored and later disposed of in the planned Konrad repository. Unit 1 at Neckarwestheim was shut down in 2011, and unit 2 is scheduled to close in 2022. As waste storage capacity at the plant is insufficient, EnBW is constructing an additional interim storage facility.

EnBW formally applied in May 2013 to the state of Baden-Württemberg for permission to decommission and demolish Neckarwestheim 1, and also sought permission to decommission and demolish unit 1 of its Philippsburg NPP. The utility expects to receive a decommissioning and dismantling licence for Neckarwestheim 1 later this year. EnBW has also applied to construct and operate a residual material treatment centre and an interim site-waste storage facility at Philippsburg.

Work is already underway at Vattenfall's Brunsbüttel NPP in Schleswig-Holstein. The company has developed special gripping tools with which to remove more than 600 barrels of low- and intermediate-level waste from six storage pits at the plant which currently hold 632 steel drums, which contain radioactive wastes from the waste water treatment system. The pits and the barrels were not intended for the long-term storage of such wastes. However, completion of the Konrad repository was delayed and is now expected between 2021 and 2025.

In 2014, Vattenfall examined the pits and the barrels within them using a specially developed camera. Some of the barrels were found to have been damaged and special gripping tools have been developed to handle them. Vattenfall expects to begin removing barrels from the pits at the end of this month and to complete the task by mid-2018.

The single-unit 771MWe Brunsbüttel plant (a boiling water reactor) was among the eight oldest German reactors taken out of service in March 2011. It had been idle since 2007 following a grid-facilitated trip. Vattenfall - which owns a 66.7% stake in the plant with E.ON holding 33.3% - applied in late 2012 to decommission that plant and is awaiting approval.



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