FRANKFURT/BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany plans to decide "by summer" on whether it needs a public fund to ringfence 36 billion euros ($41 billion) set aside by the country's utilities to pay for dismantling nuclear plants, magazine Der Spiegel reported.
The decision will be made by German Chancellor Angela Merkel's chief of staff Peter Altmaier, the magazine said, not citing where it obtained the information.
The Chancellor's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The German parliament's summer break runs through July and August.
Germany's "big four" utilities, E.ON, RWE, EnBW and Vattenfall [VATN.UL], are scheduled to switch off their nuclear plants by an accelerated 2022 deadline, set after the 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan.
To pay for the decade-long dismantling they have set aside about 36 billion euros, but a structural crisis in the energy sector has cast doubts on whether the companies will actually be able to stump up the funds.
In March, a report commissioned by the government argued that ringfencing the money in an external fund would make it easier for the government to take control if one of the big power operators ran into financial difficulties.
Utilities have not spelled out how their provisions are backed up, saying only that some are held in cash and the rest in undisclosed instruments and assets, such as plants and power grids.
They offer regular assurances that they can meet their nuclear responsibilities.
(Reporting by Christoph Steitz in Frankfurt and Caroline Copley in Berlin; editing by David Clarke)