German nuclear engineering firms are within their rights to claim damages and receive compensation for the country's plans to shut their nuclear facilities, a senior judge has ruled. The Constitutional Court found that government's impending interference with nuclear plants violated property rights. The country's government has set the date for complete nuclear decommissioning; 2022./
The German utilities and their engineers will be seeking compensation that will amount to billions of euros. E.ON, a nuclear utility, is suing for 8 billion euros. RWE is hoping for 6 billion and Vattenfall wants 4.7 billion.
The nuclear utilities initially lodged complaints that the decommissioning of plants was expropriation, but the courts were not convinced by that case. As a result, the utilities changed their case to one centered around the rights to private property.
The senior judge, Judge Ferdinand Kirchhoff, presiding over the case said: "It was permissible for lawmakers to take the accident in Fukushima as a prompt to speed up exiting nuclear energy to protect the health of people and the environment."
The decommissioning of nuclear plants in Germany has been a long, hard road for the utilities - they were ordered to power down their plants in 2000. Once Angela Merkel became chancellor of te country, she relaxed the country's plan to decommission the plants. However, Japan's tsunami and earthquake in March 2011 convinced the government to step up decommissioning progress. Moreover, the country has invested much into their renewable energy technologies and are now seemingly ready to part ways with nuclear energy.
The nuclear decommissioning process
The nuclear meltdown that captured the attention of governments around the world and is a contributing factor to Germany's nuclear shutdown, is the renowned Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant meltdown. The Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco), the company who built the nuclear reactors is now in charge of decommissioning the plant.
Three reactors affected by the earthquake of 2011 are to be decommissioned. The process will take 30 to 40 years. However, the engineers don't seem to know where the spent fuel of Reactor 1 is, causing widespread fear that they will not be able to complete a decommission in the allotted time.
Engineers from Tepco spoke to the Guardian, saying: "No one has ever done what we're doing but 30 to 40 years is a target that we can work towards. There are so many people involved that it would be wrong to alter that deadline on a whim. We've established a goal and need to show ingenuity to reach it, not take the easy way out."
The decommissioning process will reportedly cost $19 billion. The cleanup costs will amount to $180 billion. IEEE has named it one of the "biggest engineering challenges of our time." What makes the situation more difficult is the threat of further earthquakes ; which puts other nuclear reactors in Fukushima at risk as well.