Inferior concrete reportedly used in German nuclear plant

Prosecutors in the southern German city of Stuttgart are investigating allegations that a company sold low-quality concrete for major building projects including the Neckarwestheim Nuclear Power Station, German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung reported on Friday.

Inferior concrete reportedly used in German nuclear plant
Neckarwestheim Nuclear Power Station in 2000. Photo: DPA

Former employees are accusing the company of mixing crushed stone into high-quality concrete, the newspaper reported, potentially reducing the lifespan of the concrete from 50 to as little as 17 years.

The newspaper did not name the company, identifying it only as a mid-sized firm in the Stuttgart area. Citing the regional public prosecutor’s office and affidavits filed by former employees, the newspaper reported that authorities are investigating the firm’s 40-year-old owner.

The company is accused of including poor-quality concrete in its delivery of 35,000 cubic metres of concrete used to build an underground nuclear storage facility at the Neckarwestheim plant in 2004. The Süddeutsche quoted one of the manufacturer’s former mixing overseers as saying that where the sub-par concrete was used, “expensive renovations or even the wrecking ball are likely to be necessary within the anticipated lifespan of the concrete.”

Employees also accused the company of supplying sub-par concrete to other major building projects in the German state of Baden-Württemberg, including medical facilities, kindergartens, the Stuttgart Arena and museums built by automakers Mercedes-Benz and Porsche.

The company that operates the Neckarwestheim plant, energy group EnBW, told the newspaper that strict controls would have made it impossible to manipulate the concrete.

Investigators from the Ministry of the Environment in Baden-Württemberg found that quality control tests were conducted twice as often as required during construction of the Neckarswestheim facility. None of the tests showed problems with the concrete, the ministry reported on Friday after sending investigators to the facility on Thursday.

A spokesman for the concrete company declined to comment on the investigation, saying the firm was unfamiliar with the affidavits.

“It’s totally incomprehensible that such obviously false statements would be made,” said the spokesman, who was not named in the newspaper report. He added that the firm “does not sell or distribute sub-par concrete.”

A spokeswoman for the public prosecutor’s office in Stuttgart confirmed that the firm has been under investigation since last year on suspicion of fraud for delivering inferior quality concrete. Investigators searched the owner’s private home and office in November, she told the paper.

A former company employee told the Süddeutsche that his employers used a remote-control system to dilute the cement with cheap crushed stone and waste products.

“I could watch the manipulation on my screen, but I couldn’t stop it,” a former employee told the paper.

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What gas customers in Germany need to know this autumn

Germany's gas levy has been dropped and a price cap is on the way. But there are some other changes coming from October including a VAT cut and smaller surcharges. Here's what it means for your bills.

What gas customers in Germany need to know this autumn

The German government is reducing the value-added tax (VAT) on gas consumption. The rate will be reduced from 19 to seven percent, for a limited period from October 1st until the end of March 2024.

But that is not the only change for gas bills this autumn, though the government says it will no longer levy the gas procurement surcharge of 2.419 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh), which was also originally planned to take effect on October 1st. Instead, two other smaller levies will be due: the gas storage levy and the balancing energy levy. 

Here’s a look at what it means for households.

READ ALSO: Why did Germany make a u-turn on gas levy – and what do the new plans mean?

What does the VAT cut mean?

The VAT cut was originally meant to offset the major gas levy. Even though these plans have been shelved, the VAT cut – down from 19 to seven percent – is still happening. This should have a big effect on people’s bills.

According to the comparison portal Check24, this change would relieve a family by around €306 a year. A single person would see savings of around €87. These calculations are based on a yearly annual consumption of 20,000 kWh for a family, and 5000 kWh for a single household.

What about levies?

The gas procurement levy is off the table, but two other new surcharges will be added to bills from October 1st. These are the balancing energy surcharge or Regelenergieumlage (0.57 cents/kWh) and the gas storage surcharge or Gasspeicherumlage (0.059 cents/kWh).

For a household with an average yearly consumption of 20,000 kWh, the balancing energy levy increases the gas bill by €114 a year, while the gas storage levy adds another €12.

For a single household, the new surcharges will increase the annual gas bill in total by about €31.45.

However, the bottom line is that the various changes on October 1st will result in an average reduction of €180 for a family in Germany while a single person will have save on average €55.55.

Despite these changes, there is no escaping the general trend for rising gas prices compared to a year ago.

And the gas price for consumers reached a new record value of 21.9 cents per kilowatt hour in September.

That means a sample household with a consumption of 20,000 kWh pays on average €4,371 a year for gas usage. In September 2021 the same quantity of gas cost €1,316, according to Check24, meaning that the average gas bill has more than tripled within a year.

This will particularly affect people coming to the end of their contract or starting a new one where they will face the steep prices. 

Gas price cap coming

In view of the rapidly rising gas costs, relief for consumers provided by the reduction in VAT is probably only a drop in the ocean, especially as it will be counteracted to some extent by the two new levies effective from October 1st.

The gas price cap, which the government has agreed on in principle, is therefore the only measure likely to bring tangible relief for households and also companies.

Details of how this will be implemented are not yet available, although proposals are to be presented soon. Much will depend on how high the state-subsidised “base consumption” of gas for households is set.

READ ALSO: Germany to spend €200 billion to cap soaring energy costs