Siemens puts cost of nuclear exit at 1.7 trillion euros

BERLIN Tue Jan 17, 2012 11:50am EST

A shareholder arrives for Siemens annual shareholders meeting in Munich January 25, 2011. REUTERS/Michaela Rehle

A shareholder arrives for Siemens annual shareholders meeting in Munich January 25, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Michaela Rehle

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany's exit from nuclear power could cost the country as much as 1.7 trillion euros ($2.15 trillion) by 2030, or two thirds of the country's GDP in 2011, according to Siemens (SIEGn.DE), which built all of Germany's 17 nuclear plants.

"This will either be paid by energy customers or taxpayers," Siemens board member Michael Suess, in charge of the company's Energy Sector, told Reuters in an interview at the annual Handelsblatt Energiewirtschaft conference.

The estimate of 1.7 trillion euros assumes strong expansion of renewables, with feed-in tariffs as the biggest chunk of costs. The cost would be lower -- at about 1.4 billion euros -- if gas was one of the major energy alternatives, Suess said.

The estimates given by Siemens factor in feed-in tariffs -- costs that utilities have to pay to generators of renewable energy -- investments into power transmission and distribution, operations and maintenance as well as technologies to store renewable energy and carbon dioxide.

"As an industry, Germany has always reached its goals. Now the whole world is looking at us. If the energy shift should fail ... it would undermine Germany's credibility as an industry nation," Suess said.

Europe's biggest economy decided to abandon nuclear power after the massive earthquake and tsunami of March 11 which hit Japanese reactors, causing an environmental disaster.

Following the disaster, Siemens pulled out of the nuclear business, planning only to supply components such as steam turbines for nuclear power plants.

NO PAWN

Siemens' estimate for the shift away from nuclear is much higher than the 250-300 billion euros estimate given earlier by Juergen Grossmann, chief executive of Germany's No.2 utility RWE (RWEG.DE). Grossmann, however, did not give a time frame for the investments.

Siemens' Energy Sector -- which is active in several areas including power transmission, solar, wind and hydro power -- achieved 27.61 billion euros in sales in the fiscal year 2011, about 38 percent of the conglomerate's revenues, while profit came in at 4.14 billion.

Last year, Siemens said it aimed to benefit from the global push into renewable energy by installing power lines to get electricity from sun-drenched and wind-swept sites to customers.

At the time, it said the global market for power transmission of high-voltage direct current could triple in the next few years to 9 billion euros.

Suess added Germany's current renewable law (EEG) was insufficient in expanding renewable energy sources -- above all, solar -- in a sustainable way, adding the incentives were unfavorable.

In Germany, generators of solar power receive a guaranteed price for their power for several decades, with no incentive to upgrade or modify their systems.

"We think that the energy system must not be a pawn of investors that aim to maximize their returns. The shift will not work with those incentives," Suess said.

"One option would be to tie incentives to innovation, whereby owners of solar panels were forced to modernize their systems. Such incentives do not exist at the moment." ($1=0.7891 euros)

(Additional reporting by Sarah Marsh and Sakari Suoninen; Editing by Mike Nesbit and Elaine Hardcastle)

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
Comments (2)
skinnydog2010 wrote:
Nuclear power isn’t the problem. The problem is with the reactors we’ve been using to make it. If the reactors at Fukushima had been Molten Salt Reactors (MSRs) they wouldn’t have a mess on their hands. It’s a shame that Siemens isn’t switching over to molten salt technology. They could not only revive their nuclear division; they could launch a global shift to clean and safe nuclear technology.

Molten salt reactor technology was developed at Oak Ridge National Labs in the 1960s. Although the test reactor worked flawlessly, the project was shelved, a victim of political considerations and Cold War strategy. But MSRs have been gathering a lot of new attention since the events in Japan.

An MSR (sometimes referred to as a LFTR – Liquid Fuel Thorium Reactor) is a completely different kind of reactor, as different as an electric motor from a gasoline engine. It can’t melt down, and automatically adjusts its output to meet changing workload demands. It requires no active cooling system and can be installed anywhere on earth, even an underground vault. A tsunami would roll right over it, like a truck over a manhole cover.

MSRs use liquid fuel⎯nuclear material dissolved in molten fluoride salt. Solid-fuel reactors are atomic pressure cookers, with the constant danger of high-pressure ruptures, meltdowns, and the forceful ejection of radioactive material. MSRs don’t use water, and always operate at ambient pressure.

An MSR can deliver 750ºC heat for industrial processes, or spin a high-temperature gas turbine to generate power. If disaster strikes and an MSR springs a leak, the spill cools to an inert lump of rock, chemically locking the nuclear material inside. The fuel can all be recovered and used again.

MSRs burn Thorium, a mildly radioactive material more common than tin and found all over the world. America has already mined enough Thorium to power the entire country for 400 years. It’s found by the ton in the tailings of our abandoned Rare Earth Element mines.

MSRs are highly resistant to proliferation. Thorium is bred into 233Uranium inside the reactor, but only enough to keep the MSR running, so no stockpiling occurs. While 233U is an excellent fuel, its harsh radiation makes it nearly impossible to steal, and extremely difficult to use in a weapon.

Liquid fuel can be continuously cleaned of the contaminants that spoil solid fuel. This unique feature enables MSRs to consume fuel so thoroughly that they can even use the spent fuel from other reactors, cleaning up our legacy of nuclear waste while producing a miniscule amount of waste themselves.

A 1-gigawatt MSR, big enough to power a city of one million, will run on one ton of Thorium per year, or about 2 teaspoons per hour. The long-term waste will be the size of a basketball, and virtually harmless in just 300 years.

Google: MSR, LFTR, Thorium Energy. See the Wired.Com article “Uranium Is So Last Century.”

Jan 17, 2012 12:20pm EST  --  Report as abuse
DrAlexC wrote:
Germany had around 19 GWe of nuclear power so this works out to 90 billion Eu/GWe. Compare that to the cost of new nuclear at 5.6 billion Euro for 1.6 GWe or 3.5 billion Eu/GWe
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204190704577026110866409848.html.

Even with cost overruns this estimate for ‘renewables’ it 10x the cost of conventional nuclear, not to mention the improvements China, Australia, India & others see by applying our own inventions to Thorium power. http://ThoriumRemix.com/2011

Jan 17, 2012 4:39pm EST  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.