Energy groups E.ON and EnBW are tearing down their nuclear plants at massive cost following Germany's decision to abandon nuclear power by 2022, but they are seeking to turn a burden into business by exporting their new-found dismantling skills.
Germany is the only country in the world to dump the technology as a direct consequence of Japan's Fukushima disaster in 2011, a decision that came as a major blow to the two energy firms which had owned most of Germany's 17 operational nuclear stations.
E.ON and EnBW have already shut down five plants between them and must close another five by 2022. Not only are they losing a major profit driver - a station could earn €1m a day - but are also facing combined decommissioning costs of around €17bn.
This tough new reality has nonetheless forced them to rapidly acquire expertise in the lengthy and complex process of dismantling nuclear plants - presenting an unlikely but potentially lucrative business opportunity in a world where dozens of reactors are set to be closed over the next 25 years.
EnBW formed its plant decommissioning division following the Fukushima disaster and it has about 500 staff. More recently, the division launched a consultancy service aimed at pitching for external work, including internationally.
A source familiar with the matter said that the group had advised all three Swiss nuclear plants operators - BKW Energie, Axpo and Alpiq - in dismantling projects last year and was still actively working for one of them.
E.ON and EnBW, which both regard decommissioning as a growth business, did not give figures for their decommissioning division's financial performance or targets, saying they did not break them out from the wider group.
E.ON and EnBW are, however, entering a crowded global market where they will have to compete with bigger rivals including market leader Areva, which has a 5,000-strong decommissioning team, privately-held Bechtel, Aecom and Fluor.
With US nuclear services provider Westinghouse's Chapter 11 filing in March hitting one of the biggest names in the sector, all of the players are hoping to increase their slice of the action.
The International Energy Agency reckons that about 150 gigawatts of nuclear capacity, more than a third of the world's total, will be retired by 2040, with Europe accounting for the bulk at more than 40pc.
"Within the next few decades, the majority of nuclear plants currently in operation will approach the end of their useful lives, requiring either refurbishment or decommissioning," said Randy Wotring, president of Technical and Operational Services at US-based Aecom.
The market for nuclear-decommissioning services is expected to nearly double to €8.6bn by 2021, from €4.8bn last year, according to research company MarketsandMarkets.
But only about a quarter is being outsourced by utilities, which prefer to keep much of the dismantling work in-house, industry sources told Reuters.
Based on current estimates from plant operators and consultancy Callan Associates, the average cost of dismantling a nuclear plant with a capacity of about 1 gigawatt is up to €800m over 10 to 40 years. (Reuters)