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Germany's Gabriel says state won't pay for nuclear decommissioning

German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel (R) speaks about the government's policies on Germany's energy transition as German Chancellor Angela Merkel listens during a session of the Bundestag, the lower house of parliament, in Berlin, May 8, 2014. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany’s economy minister has joined Angela Merkel in rejecting talk that utilities might hand over responsibility for decommissioning Germany’s nuclear power plants to a new public entity, as the projected costs of decommissioning rise.

“It should not be tax payers who pay for the clean-up of atomic waste but rather those who made money for decades through running nuclear power stations,” Sigmar Gabriel told the newspaper Bild am Sonntag in an interview published on Sunday.

Two sources told Reuters last weekend that utilities were in talks with the government about setting up a “bad bank” for nuclear plants, in response to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to close them all by 2022 after the Fukushima disaster.

The foundation would use provisions earmarked by the nuclear plant operators but would also take on the risk of unforeseen extra costs, effectively capping the utilities’ liability.

The Environment Ministry said last week the utilities bore full responsibility for safely decommissioning and dismantling the nine nuclear power plants still on the grid.

One of the sources had told Reuters that if the state takes over responsibility for the decommissioning, 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 - the German companies E.ON EONGn.DE, RWE RWEG.DE and EnBW EBKG.DE and Sweden's Vattenfall VATN.UL - have set aside total provisions of around 36 billion euros (29.3 billion pounds) for dismantling the plants and disposing of nuclear waste.

Germany’s Spiegel magazine reported on Sunday that government experts predicted a possible shortfall of 3.5 billion euros for the clean up, as costs had risen sharply.

Reporting by Alexandra Hudson; Editing by Larry King