Germany backs down on nuclear ban

The German government has cancelled its decision to ban all exports of nuclear waste for re-processing at the end of this year, and expects to extend its timetable for phasing out nuclear power, for 'economic reasons'.

Instead of banning all nuclear waste exports from the end of 1999, the government will negotiate deadlines with individual nuclear plants, depending on their own waste storage capacity and contractual arrangements with re-processors in France and the UK, Chancellor Schroeder announced this week.

The official reason given is to allow the nuclear plants time to develop adequate capacity to store their waste locally. However, a government spokesman told edie that the main problem was the cost of getting out of contracts with re-processing firms in France and the UK.

It has been widely reported that Schroeder announced no compensation would be paid, as the government ban would be equivalent to force majeure preventing contracts from being fulfilled. But each nuclear power plant has its own individual contracts with re-processors, and the German nuclear industry has made it clear it will “fight for its rights” to continue exporting waste beyond 1999. The new dates for each plant to begin storing its own waste will depend largely on when they can end their re-processing contracts without having to pay compensation.

The government is now also saying that it will not be possible to set a blanket deadline for the closure of nuclear power stations, but the nuclear phase-out will be achieved through negotiations over the operating permits for individual power stations, which will start in February. Schroeder had said that a phase-out of nuclear power would be incorporated into national legislation within 100 days of the new government taking office, but this objective has not be reached.

The Green party is very unhappy with the situation, said the government spokesman, as the nuclear phase-out is its most important policy objective. The Greens will be pushing very hard to begin closing plants in the next four years. The SPD says it would like to begin “as soon as possible” but is faces problems with energy and employment – unemployment is a major domestic issue in Germany, and “the SPD must balance its promise to end nuclear power against its promise to reduce unemployment”.

Whether this now puts the Red/Green coalition in crisis “is a difficult question” edie was told. “Both parties admit that there are problems, but both say that these do not put the coalition into question.”

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