The global nuclear power industry, having survived the near death experience of the 11 March 2011 disaster at Tepco’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power complex still has an ongoing problem worldwide – the safe disposal of nuclear waste.
As an example, the U.S. alone has 104 nuclear power plants (NPPs). According to a June 2011 Government Accounting Office study, “The United States has generated over 75,000 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel and high-level nuclear waste—extremely hazardous substances—at 80 sites in 35 states and is expected to more than double that amount by 2055.”
But of all the nations with civilian nuclear power industries, only one is simultaneously confronting issues of both decommissioning NPPs nationwide and the long-term safe storage of nuclear waste – Germany. The German-based GRS independent expert research organization, which analyses reactor safety, estimates that German atomic power plants consume about 400 tons of nuclear fuel per year. Accordingly, there’s a lot of nuclear trash to be disposed of.
On 30 May 2011, in the aftermath of Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster two months earlier, German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced an "energy revolution" and that Germany would close all 19 of its NPPs over the coming decade, a monumental transition in the country’s energy matrix, as the NPPs produced about 28 percent of the nation's electricity. The shortfall was to be made up with an increased emphasis on renewable energy sources.
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As Germany sets about deconstructing its civilian nuclear power complexes, its leading firm is ironically a legacy of East Germany, the state-owned Energiewerke Nord (EWN GmbH).
Founded in 1967 as an energy company of the GDR, EWN now has 990 employees and is operated by the Ministry of Finance. In 2009 EWN’s total assets were valued at $902 million with a turnover at $71 million.
EWN’s expertise in the decommissioning of defunct nuclear facilities is recognized throughout the European Union – as the “European website on Decommissioning of Nuclear Installations” notes, “The Energiewerke Nord are performing the world's largest decommissioning project, about eight (8) reactor units of the Russian pressurized water reactor W W E R - 4 4 0 type” at the Greifswald Nuclear Power Plant (KGR).
Such expertise attracted foreign interest in the company, with potential suitors including the French nuclear state company Areva SA and former Soviet diplomat turned nuclear lobbyist Andrei Bykov, both of whom initiated discussions with the Ministry of Finance about the possible purchase of EWN, which was revealed during Parliamentary questioning by Green Party member Sylvia Kotting-Uhl. It produced some discomfort among the Ministry of Finance representatives, who in a previous parliamentary question period denied that Bykov had ever even been in the ministry.
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Whatever the future of nuclear power in Europe, specialist disposal companies stand to earn billions. According to current legislation, by 2030 110 nuclear reactors are scheduled to go offline in Europe. go from the network. Greenpeace estimates decommissioning costs at $1.32 billion per reactor, with possible disposal costs for the decommissioned reactor’s radioactive waste adding another $1.32 billion. Accordingly, the decommissioning of the 110 reactors will cost roughly $290 billion. Needless to say, companies such as EWN will reap substantial profits in such an environment.
But the potentially bad news for Berlin is that German nuclear companies have set aside roughly $45 billion for the decommissioning of outdated reactors. The bad news is that should one of the companies go bankrupt, the reserves could disappear, in which case the state (and German taxpayers) will be stuck with the tab.
In any case, it seems that the Germany’s Ministry of Finance retaining EWN rather than privatizing it for a quick Euro makes sense, as the company’s domestic order books are likely to be overflowing for years to come.
By. John C.K. Daly of Oilprice.com