Berlin invested in Belgian nuclear plants despite safety concerns

People take part in a tri-national human chain action, near the nuclear power plant of Tihange, Belgium, 25 June 2017. [Olivier Hoslet/ EPA]

Germany’s federal government is invested to the tune of €6.4m in Belgium’s ailing nuclear plants, despite Berlin recently advocating for their closure. EURACTIV’s partner Der Tagesspiegel reports.

During one of the last meetings of the now-dissolved Socialist-Green government of the region of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), the finance ministry sold €23.3m of indirect shares in French energy firm EDF and the Belgian Engie-Electrabel group from the region’s €10bn strong pension fund.

Outgoing NRW Finance Minister Norbert Walter Borjans (SPD) even revealed that his ministry had managed to offload the shares at a profit.

Those shares had indirectly involved NRW in the controversial Belgian nuclear plants of Tihange and Doel, which are part-owned by the two energy companies.

Both nuclear plants have for years raised safety fears among international atomic power experts due to their age.

Massive human chain protests ageing Belgian nuclear reactors

50,000 people from Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands formed a cross-border 90 km-long human chain on Sunday (25 June) to protest against the controversial Tihange nuclear power plant. Micro-cracks were recently discovered in one of the facility’s reactors.

But now German Green MP Oliver Krischer has discovered, through a request made to the federal finance ministry, that Berlin itself also holds the same indirect shares, which total some €6.4m, according to the Aachener Zeitung.

German Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks (SPD), who has in the past asked the Belgian government to take those nuclear power plants offline temporarily because of safety fears, told the newspaper that she did not know about the shares and pledged to ensure they are sold on.

Germany tells Belgium to take two nuclear reactors offline

Germany has called upon the Belgian government to take two of its nuclear reactors temporarily offline, as there are “open safety concerns”, according to its environment minister. EURACTIV Germany reports.

Back in 1999, Berlin set up a pension reserve that has since swelled to around €11bn. Since 2007, there has also been a pension fund that by the end of 2016 had reached €3.1bn, according to the Interior Ministry. Both help fund civil servant pensions.

The government has entrusted the funds and the task of upholding its three principles of “security, liquidity and yield” to the Bundesbank.

After investing the money in government bonds for years, the Bundesbank’s assets managers have been investing 20% of shares through other avenues because bonds have not been returning a profit for quite some time.

That is also the reason why health insurance funds can now invest around 10% of their assets in equities.

As a rule, the Bundesbank aims to invest in equity funds because the risk and the expenses are lower. However, this means that the federal government does not always know in which companies its money is being invested.

The issue is set to continue as nuclear power plant operators Eon, RWE, EnBW and Vattenfall are expected to transfer €24bn to a new state fund to pay for storing the nuclear waste their installations have produced and will produce, in the lead-up to 2022, when Germany hopes to have switched off all its reactors.

The newly created ‘Fund for the Financing of Nuclear Waste Disposal’ will be headed by former bank manager Anja Mikus. Lawmakers and ministry representatives want to keep the money firmly out of being reinvested in the nuclear industry elsewhere.

EU's ageing nuclear reactors pose significant safety risks

It isn’t just far-off Ukraine that has its worries about nuclear power. 128 nuclear power plants in the EU with an average age of 30.6 years provide food for thought that is much closer to home. EURACTIV’s partner Tagesspiegel reports.

In an ideal scenario, they want the money to be invested sustainably, away from coal, oil and gas. But a decision on where to send the cash is yet to be made.

Mikus will have little time to organise the right investment opportunities, given that the atomic giants will transfer the money all at once in order to avoid paying a substantial 4.6% interest rate imposed by the Bundesbank.

Last week, Berlin reimbursed the four companies €6bn in fuel taxes paid between 2011 and 2016.