Germany Considers Tax on Nuclear Power to Cover Clean Up Costs

March 11, 2009

By Jeremy van Loon, Bloomberg

Germany's Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel wants to impose a tax on nuclear power plant operators to pay for more of the radioactive waste they produce.

A tax of 1 cent per kilowatt hour of electricity from nuclear power would generate 1.6 billion euros ($2 billion) that would be used to pay for clean-up costs, Gabriel said at a press conference in Berlin today.

German taxpayers have already contributed about 20 billion euros to pay for costs to treat nuclear waste as well as construction of disposal facilities, Gabriel said. Germany, which is phasing out the use of atomic energy, will have to spend about 2 billion euros to treat waste and upgrade its Asse disposal center where radioactive material has been improperly stored.

"Cutting into the profits of the power operators is fine because we can't have privatization of profits and yet keep the burdens of social costs of nuclear with taxpayers," he said. "I can't see any reason why the federal government should pay for this, especially given the current economic situation."

About 71 percent of the radioactive waste at the Asse disposal operation comes from nuclear power plants, whose owners have contributed less than 1 million euros to clean-up efforts, said Gabriel. Germany is also debating a new radioactive waste center in Gorleben.

Asse stores 125,000 barrels of weak and mid-radioactive waste from the years 1967 to 1978. A government report in September showed former operator GSF GmbH overlooked or failed to report water seepage in dry disposal chambers and unauthorized storage of highly radioactive waste.

The Federal Office for Radiation Protection took over management of the project set up in former salt mines in the state of Lower Saxony on Jan. 1.

Gabriel and his Social Democratic Party have resisted calls to lengthen the use of nuclear power, arguing that the technology is too costly, polluting and can't be used in conjunction with renewable energy such as wind turbines and solar panels.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jeremy van Loon in Berlin at [email protected]