German Nuclear Operators to Pay for $2.6 Billion Waste Site

German nuclear-power operators will have to pay an estimated 2 billion euros ($2.6 billion) for identifying and building an atomic-waste depository, Environment Minister Peter Altmaier said.

“The cost of dealing with nuclear waste will be borne by those who produced it,” Altmaier said today in an interview on N24 television. “In the end, it’s also in the interests of the nuclear operators that we identify a depository.” RWE AG, EON SE and EnBW Energie Baden-Wuerttemberg AG currently operate the country’s remaining nine nuclear plants, one of which is shared with Vattenfall AB.

Altmaier, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party, is seeking political consensus on energy policy as federal elections approach in less than six months. He is due to meet today with state leaders and the heads of Germany’s main political parties to begin anew the search for a facility to handle the country’s most dangerous nuclear waste amid public opposition to the sole existing provisional site, at Gorleben in Lower Saxony state.

He wants a cross-party commission to draw up criteria for identifying a permanent site by the end of 2015, with an operational facility to be in place by 2031. A draft for identifying the depository should be created “as soon as possible” with the goal of pushing through the law before parliament’s summer break, Altmaier said in a statement today.

Party Talks

Altmaier’s predecessor, Norbert Roettgen, tried and failed to restart the search after holding cross-party talks in November 2011. At that point, Germany, which plans to close all its atomic reactors by 2022, had already spent more than 1 billion euros of taxpayers’ money since the 1980s to determine whether the Gorleben site was appropriate. The previous government of Social Democrats and Greens blocked research at the site for 10 years through 2010.

“In the last 30 years the search has been so difficult because it’s been so controversial politically,” Altmaier said. After Japan’s Fukushima disaster and the decision to shutter Germany’s nuclear plants, “we’re looking for a new beginning.”

Altmaier said that he had pledged no further nuclear waste will be transported to Gorleben “while the search goes on,” and that Germany “will do everything to ensure that no German nuclear transport goes outside the country.”

Gorleben became a focus of anti-nuclear protests after exploration began in 1979 with the aim of setting up a permanent underground storage site. Work was halted with the 2000 nuclear shutdown law brought in the then ruling Social Democrats and Greens.

Merkel, a former minister for the environment and reactor safety in Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s government from 1994 to 1998, appeared before a parliamentary inquiry in September 2012 to explain her role in planning the Gorleben facility.

Deutsches Atomforum, a lobby group of the operators of German nuclear power plants, said it saw no legal grounds for funding the search for alternative sites to Gorleben until a final judgment on the former salt mine’s suitability has been made.