German utilities offer decommissioning services

10 May 2017

German Energy groups E.ON and EnBW are incurring huge costs from dismantling their NPPs. They have already shut down five plants with another five to close by 2022 and are facing combined decommissioning costs of around €17bn ($18.5bn). However, they are hoping to capitalise on their decommissioning skills in the export market and say they are attracting the interest of international customers, Reuters reported on 8 May.

"We are increasingly getting requests from countries where the decommissioning of nuclear plants is an issue or will become one," said a spokeswoman for E.ON's PreussenElektra division, which was formed last year to wind down the company's nuclear business and operate the plants in the interim period. The unit, which employs about 650 decommissioning staff, said it was seeing particularly strong demand for its know-how in Japan, where 12 reactors are set to be closed down, adding that Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) was among its clients.

EnBW, which formed its plant decommissioning division following the Fukushima accident, has about 500 staff and recently PreussenElektra launched a consultancy service aimed at pitching for external work. It said it had won contracts with operators, research institutes and nuclear regulators in Germany and Europe, but declined to give names. Reuters sited a source familiar with the matter as saying that the group had advised all three Swiss nuclear plants operators - BKW Energie, Axpo  and Alpiq - in dismantling projects last year and was still working for one of them. MHI, Axpo and Alpiq all declined to comment. BKW said it was in contact with several firms active in dismantling, including EnBW.

The German utilities are seeking to focus on the project management experience they have gathered from closing their own reactors, and contract out some work to specialist companies. E.ON said it expected that more efficient processes and economies of scale would help it cut its dismantling bill by about €1bn (9%). 

Meanwhile, electricity bills in Germany, already the second-highest in Europe, are expected to increase further as a result of Germany’s decision to phase out nuclear power early next decade, Bloomberg reported on 8 May. While there is no risk of blackouts, costs could rise if transmission gaps emerge, according to the Federal Network Agency, or Bnetza, which regulates electricity markets. Germany is closing its last nuclear plants in 2022 and is counting on a mix of mothballed lignite plants, wind and solar power expansion and grid stability measures to keep outages down.

Germany’s eight remaining commercial nuclear reactors generated about 13% of the total power in 2016, Bloomberg said. The economy and energy ministry says it is confident that growing wind and solar power along with energy-efficiency measures will help plug the gap by 2022. It also has reserve capacity of about 4GWe of older lignite plants to bridge potential gaps. Germany has shut-down 28 nuclear units and those still operating will be closed by 2022.

Costs to consumers and industry of stabilising the grid have risen in recent years as wind and solar power have surged into the system. The financial burden of coping with the additional capacity will not be solved until about 2025, the scheduled date of completion of the nation’s high voltage transmission system that will transfer wind and solar power from the north to the south.

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