By Michael Mariotte

Solar power in a small village in Germany’s Black Forest region.

Reuters today published a story (and it is indeed a “story”) with the alarming headline Costs for Germany’s nuclear exit could rise to $75 billion.

You can be sure the nuclear and coal advocates will start spreading that around as yet one more “failure” of Germany’s Energiewende, or energy transition. Look, they’ll say, at the huge costs ending nuclear power are inflicting on Germany and its citizens.

But, like the argument that use of coal has increased because of the Energiewende and shutdown of some of Germany’s nuclear reactors (as we stated here, with two citations, coal increased because of decisions made before the nuclear shutdown decision, and coal’s use is now dropping as more renewables continue to be added to the nation’s energy mix), the Reuter’s story shows a misunderstanding of the situation, aggravated by the headline.

That $75 billion cost estimate is for decommissioning Germany’s reactors and building a permanent radioactive waste dump. Those are costs that will be incurred regardless of the Energiewende–nuclear reactors don’t last forever. Eventually they’re all going to close and be decommissioned, and the radioactive waste they generated will have to be isolated from the environment.

In fact, by closing their reactors early, Germany actually will be saving money, because less radioactive waste will be generated, which means less will have to be placed in a disposal site.

And, it’s not like this $75 billion is to be paid by taxpayers or ratepayers because of the nuclear exit; in fact, most of it already has been paid. As in the U.S., it is the utilities that are required to pay for decommissioning, not the taxpayers. And the German utilities claim they have collected adequate resources to cover decommissioning. That may not be the case; according to the article the utilities have about $38 billion in their decommissioning fund, which averages out to about $2 billion per reactor. Whether that’s enough will depend on what kind of problems they run into when decommissioning large reactors. But we’ll point out that $2 billion per reactor is more than most U.S. utilities have socked away in their funds.

The rest of the money–the other $37 billion–is for the permanent radwaste disposal site. That wouldn’t pay for Yucca Mountain or any other U.S. radwaste site, not even close; whether it’s enough for Germany’s waste program, which is no further along than the U.S., is an unknown. But again, that’s a cost that will have to be incurred simply because nuclear power was used; it has nothing to do with shutting down reactors early.

It will come as a surprise to many Americans, certainly to most U.S. policymakers, but despite the claims made by nuclear and coal advocates about the Energiewende, at current Euro exchange rates, German consumers actually have lower electricity rates than do Americans. German households are also much more energy efficient, and thus use much less electricity, than average U.S. households. Add up …read more

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