German Court Upholds National Ban On Nuclear Power, Awards Companies $25 Billion


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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter
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Germany’s Supreme Court upheld a 2011 decision to shut down all nuclear reactors ahead of schedule, but ruled that power companies must be paid $25 billion for their losses.

The court ruled that the power companies RWE AG, EON SE and Vattenfall AB are entitled to compensation for power-production rights lost because of policy.

“Merkel’s coalition in 2011 acted impulsively and treated the utilities ruthlessly in backtracking on earlier legal arrangements,” Christian Kirchberg, a constitutional law professor at the Karlsruhe Institute for Technology, told Bloomberg. “It was clearly under shock after Fukushima, yet it simply didn’t do its homework properly. The companies were bound to try to rescue something from their investment and they will get it.”

German power companies sued the government in March for about $20.2 billion after it announced plans to shut down all of the country’s nuclear reactors. The court ordered the government and the power companies to reach an agreement on compensation by 2018, but did not specify an amount.

Processing nuclear waste and decommissioning the reactors will cost companies about $25 billion. The government mandated that the nuclear reactors be replaced with wind or solar power, but the estimated cost of doing so is over $1.1 trillion and this may lead to higher carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

“The decision to end the use of nuclear power as soon as possible following the drastic events of Fukushima not only meets legal requirements, it was and continues to be the right decision,” Barbara Hendricks, Germany’s environment minister, told a panel of eight judges in March when the case was being heard.

Before Fukushima, German leader Angela Merkel’s government extended the life of several reactors, but promptly turned against the technology after the disaster. The German government argued before the court that the 2011 Fukushima earthquake (9.0 magnitude ) and tidal wave in Japan shows that nuclear power is unreliable and dangerous. Utilities argue that such events are extremely unlikely to impact Germany.

The shutdown plan has certainly done enormous damage to utilities, destroying their main sources of profit and increasing the price of electricity throughout Germany. In the year 2000, nuclear power made up 29.5 percent of Germany’s energy supply, but by 2015, nuclear power only provided 16 percent of German energy.

This decline created an opening for coal-fired electricty, which now provides 44 percent of Germany’s power. Shifting to coal power caused Germany’s CO2 emissions to actually rise by 28 million tons each year following the change in nuclear policy.

Germany’s anti-nuclear movement has a long history. In 1975, 28,000 German protesters occupied a new reactor and managed to stop construction. And after the 1979 nuclear incident at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania, over 200,000 German protesters took to the streets.

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