German government denies in talks on public body to decommission nuclear plants

BERLIN Mon May 12, 2014 7:57am EDT

BERLIN May 12 (Reuters) - The German government denied on Monday it was in talks with utilities about handing over responsibility for decommissioning the country's nuclear power plants to a new public taxpayer-backed foundation.

"There are no talks and no agreements on establishing such a foundation," Steffen Seibert, Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman, said at a news conference after industry sources told Reuters that the task should be put into public hands.

A spokesman for Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks told the news conference it was the full responsibility of the utilities to safely decommission and dismantle the country's nine nuclear power plants still on the grid.

Two sources told Reuters on Sunday that utilities were in talks with the government about handing over responsibility for decommissioning the country's nuclear power plants to a public foundation.

This so-called 'bad bank' for nuclear energy would take control of Germany's nuclear plants, which the government decided should be all closed by 2022 following the Fukushima disaster in Japan three years ago.

One of the sources said if there was a deal the utilities might be willing to drop their legal claims against the government for compensation for having to shut the plants.

The four operators of nuclear plants in Germany - E.ON , RWE and EnBW and Sweden's Vattenfall - have set aside total provisions of around 36 billion euros ($50 billion) for the dismantling of the plants and the disposal of nuclear waste.

The Environment Ministry spokesman said the utilities would have to cover all the costs of the decommissioning and should use those reserves to cover that. A spokeswoman for the Economy Ministry said the government was confident the utilities' reserves were sufficient to cover those costs.

(Reporting by Michael Nienaber; editing by Susan Thomas)