(October 24, 2003) Next month it will be 25 years ago that the people of Austria voted "no" in a referendum on the Zwentendorf nuclear power plant, at that time under construction. This 25 years anniversary will be celebrated in the For a Brighter Future symposium in Linz. As a non-nuclear country it often protested against the risks of nuclear facilities in neighboring countries. But due to the liberalization of the electricity market, the import of nuclear electricity has been growing continuously.
(595.5554) WISE Amsterdam - In the referendum of 5 November 1978 a majority of 50.47% voted against the opening of Zwentendorf. In the early 1980s there was an attempt to hold a new referendum to overturn the outcome of 1978, but that attempt failed. Austria has often protested against risky NPPs near its borders, such as the Czech Temelin reactors. And in talks about the accession of new countries to the European Union, it made an issue of the phase out of nuclear energy (see WISE/NIRS Nuclear Monitor 589: "25 years ago"). One might consider Austria as "non-nuclear", but an increasing amount of nuclear electricity is being imported into the country.
Because of the liberalization of the electricity market, Austrian electricity utilities can now sell their electricity on the international market place and buy electricity from other (foreign) utilities. As a result electricity from hydro plants is sold and exported at high prices and cheaply offered nuclear electricity imported into Austria. As a result, more than 15% of the electricity has become nuclear generated.
Environmental NGO Global 2000 and Greenpeace Austria recently calculated the share of energy sources for the year 2002. Leader is Tyrolean Hydro Power (TIWAG) with a nuclear share of 27 percent. "When this continues, they need to change their name next year to "Tyrolean Nuclear Power", said Global 2000 in a press release.
The developments from 2000-2002 can be seen in the table:
"Austria has developed itself into a good market for nuclear electricity utilities. The consequences of this electricity market liberalization contradicts therefore the example of a nuclear free Austria", said Global 2000 on the occasion of the second 'anniversary' of electricity market liberalization on 1 October. Austria has become one of the biggest electricity traders of Europe.
The trade in cheaply dumped electricity also has another negative consequence according to Global 2000. Due to the low prices, energy efficiency measures will become less and less attractive to the industry.
Next to the increased nuclear imports, another consequence of the liberalization is getting visual: the sale of Austrian utilities to foreign nuclear companies. An example is the Austrian utility Energy-Supplier Lower Austria (EVN): Energy Steiermark AG (EstAG) and Energy Baden-Württemberg (EnBW) have together about one third of the shares of EVN. Both companies are controlled by Electricity of France (EdF), the world's biggest nuclear utility.
The Austrian government now plans to abandon the obligation that a majority of the shares must be public property. That will open the door to a further sale of utilities to nuclear companies.
Greenpeace and Global 2000 criticize the lack of action by federal and regional governments against the developments. They have urged the regional state governments to use their powers as majority shareholders in the state-organized electricity utilities, "so that Austrian electricity suppliers will no longer trade in nuclear electricity".
Both organization have urged consumers to switch to 100% clean energy suppliers, such as Ökostrom AG and Alpen-Adria-Energy AG.
Sources: press releases Global 2000, 30 September and 9 October 2003