Germany: Consensus talks continue: No agreement on operational periods

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#531
09/06/2000
Article

(June 9, 2000) In the negotiations between the German government and the electric utilities, achievements have been claimed but a concrete agreement on reactor operational periods has not yet been achieved. Meanwhile, the World EXPO in Hannover started presenting the view of the industry on energy production in the 21st century.

(531.5182) WISE Amsterdam - Government officials and spokespersons of the electric utilities claim to be closer now to a nuclear phaseout deal. Since 1998, the SPD-Green government has tried to reach consensus with the electric utilities on a phaseout of nuclear energy as agreed upon in the coalition agreement of the governing parties (see also WISE News Communique 506.4980: "Germany: U-turn on nuclear phaseout"; and 505.4975: "Germany will end reprocessing in 2000").

According to Dietmar Kuhnt of the electric utility RWE, at the German Atomic Energy Forum meeting on May 22, both the industrial and governmental representatives have met 13 times since February this year. Nearly all issues, he said, had been solved. Though he admitted that the most important one --the lifetime of reactors-- had not been settled yet. Otto Majewski from Bayernwerk said that for that issue, they were discussing not to lay down exact operational periods. The government wanted initially to reach an agreement with a lifetime of reactors at a maximum of 30 years. The industry, however, insists on 40 or even 50 years. Now they would be looking at "apportioning to operating reactors shares of a total number of kilowatt-hours which would be allowed to be generated before all reactors are shut down".

Remarkable is the decision of RWE to add Muelheim-Kaerlich into the negotiations, a reactor whose license was nullified 11 years ago. With this, it looks like they are trying to gain "credits" from the Muelheim reactor, which will never open, and use it to keep other reactors operating for a longer period.

The energy expert of the German Greens, Michaele Hustedt, came up in the media with a proposal of a so-called "small consensus". This means the exclusion of the lifetime of nuclear reactors from the consensus talks but trying to come to agreement on all the other points like nuclear waste storage and reprocessing. The issues that are not resolved by consensus could then be resolved by national laws. According to Hustedt, the government and the utilities would agree that a final storage site is not necessary within the first 30 years. The utilities would also be prepared to ban reprocessing if spent fuel could be stored in interim storage sites.

The spokesman on environment of the Social Democrats, Michael Mueller, voiced his skepticism toward the reality of a "small consensus". He thinks the industry does not want consensus about issues like reprocessing, but use it in the negotiations to force longer lifetime periods for reactors.

In the weekend of May 27-28, the government and the utilities have come up with a framework document, a next step in the process. Chancellor Schröder now expects a deal before the summer recess in July but has warned that if the two parties do not reach consensus by then, the government will introduce legislation to shut down the reactors. Although a decisive meeting between Schröder and the four main electric utilities was expected on June 8, it was postponed due to disagreements on the inclusion of Muelheim-Kaerlich in a deal.

In the early 1990s, the Kohl government came up for the first time with a consensus proposal. The aim was to reach consensus between the big political parties regarding the future of nuclear energy. These consensus talks failed because the Social Democrats could not afford to change their position on a nuclear phaseout. They were afraid they would lose votes in the 1994 elections. After the red-green coalition took over in 1998, consensus talks came to stand in a different light. The new government was afraid of claims from the nuclear industry for income losses. Therefore, they tried to come to an agreement with the nuclear industry on how to phase out, without being confronted with huge compensation claims.

While the German government and the electric utilities talk about the lifetimes of nuclear reactors, the nuclear industry has the possibility to promote itself on the government-sponsored World EXPO 2000 in Hannover.

The EXPO, with the theme "Human, Nature and Technology", presents itself as a forum of sustainable technology. But if one studies the structure of the EXPO and the involvement of the industry, you can easily imagine what they tend to sell as "sustainable"--big technological projects like nuclear power, biotechnology and genetical engineering. In the so-called theme park, ideas and visions on several issues are presented. Here especially, the big multinational firms participated in shaping the exhibitions.

The online brochure of the information office of the German electric utilities states: "For our economy, a secure energy supply is of high importance. It will be sustainable, guaranteed through a balanced mix of all energy sources including the use of nuclear [power]."

There are especially two projects presented on the EXPO that anti-nuclear activists are protesting against. One is the new European Pressurized Reactor (EPR) developed by Siemens and French Framatome, and secondly, the research reactor FRM-II near Muenich, also a Siemens project. It is clear that nuclear power is presented as a clean source of energy, helping to reduce CO2 emissions. Anti-nuclear groups joined the protest against the EXPO, together with environmental and development groups. On the opening day on June 1, several hundreds of protesters tried to blockade the traffic routes to the EXPO. Protests will continue throughout the duration of the EXPO.

Sources:

  • Reuters, 28 May 2000
  • Tageszeitung (FRG), 26 May and 7 June 2000
  • the official EXPO website (www.expo2000.de)
  • Anti Atom Aktuell 111 (FRG)
  • Nucleonics Week, 25 May 2000

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