EU regulators wave through UK nuclear waste clean-up price plan

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Britain won EU regulatory approval on Friday for a pricing model to set the cost of disposing of nuclear waste that environmentalists say is too generous to nuclear power plant operators and punishing for taxpayers.

Nuclear energy is a sensitive political issue in Europe that pits the European Union’s biggest economy Germany - and its plans to phase out atomic energy and pin costs on its utilities - against supporters of the energy source, such as Britain and France.

Britain wants to build a facility to store nuclear waste, with the operating date planned around 2040 and disposal expected to start around 2075 and last until 2140.

It sought approval from the European Commission for a pricing formula that limits the price that plant operators will pay for disposing of nuclear waste.

The Commission, responsible for setting a level playing field in the 28-country bloc, gave the green light, saying that the plan was in line with EU state aid rules.

“The Commission’s assessment showed that the UK pricing methodology makes sure that operators of new power plants will bear the disposal costs for their spent fuel and intermediate level waste,” the EU executive said in a statement.

Greenpeace however said the regulator should have sought more feedback before issuing its decision and the taxpayer was likely to face a huge long-term bill.

“It’s a transfer of risk to the taxpayer,” Doug Parr, Greenpeace policy director, said.

“It’s odd that the Commission did not see the need to have a full enquiry when other countries are facing different circumstances.”

While some member states support nuclear power, others question whether Britain’s plans to fund new nuclear reactors at Hinkley Point in conjunction with EDF are illegal state aid, even though the Commission approved them.

Germany’s E.ON is smarting from having to take on liability for billions of euros of decommissioning costs and a court ruling that a German tax, contested by the big utilities, on the use of nuclear energy, does not break EU laws.

Editing by David Clarke and Adrian Croft