GERMANY: Nuclear phase-out deal is a “sell out” say environmentalists

Germany's nuclear power utilities have agreed to the phase-out of nuclear power in the country on the basis of a limit on the amount of electricity that existing nuclear power stations may generate before they must be shut down. Environmentalists have described the deal as a sell out to the nuclear industry.

Under the terms of the deal, which has yet to be ratified by the SPD and Green coalition and by nuclear industry shareholders, Germany’s 19 operating nuclear power stations can generate a total of 2500 Terra watt (TW) hours before they must shut down.

Although each station has been allocated an individual production limit for, these quantities can be swapped both between a utility’s own plants and also between utilities. Germany’s four nuclear utilities may prefer to generate power in newer, more efficient power stations at a lower cost rather than use older plants. Environmentalists oppose this facility because it makes it impossible to tell when each plant will be switched off.

“For us this is not really a phase out at all,” German Greenpeace’s nuclear expert, Susanne Ochse told edie. “We would have expected a supposedly red-green government to shut down nuclear power for safety rather than for financial reasons. But there was not one word about the dangers of nuclear power in the agreement. They sold out to the nuclear industry. The fact is, no utilities want to build new nuclear power plants nowadays, so this plan is not as radical as it looks. Even France wants to diversify its electricity mix. Liberalised markets are leading to lower electricity prices and nuclear power is very expensive in terms of capital assets” (see related story).

Greenpeace has also denounced the German Government’s pledge that it will not introduce further anti-nuclear taxes or safety legislation: “It’s not their job to guarantee smooth operation without interference. This is a blank cheque for reducing safety standards,” said Ochse.

In addition, the deal means that no German stations will have to shut before the next general elections in 2002 and that a controversial plant that was taken off the grid 10 years ago after licensing problems will be revived to generate 150TW hours of electricity before it is finally decommissioned.

The Greens originally wanted Germany’s nuclear power stations to run for only 25 years each. A compromise was reach with the industry at 32. It was then decided to turn off each station only after they had generated an allotted amount of electricity. This was calculated by taking each station’s five most productive years and multiplying this by 32.

However, because plants actually operate at a load factor of around 78%, Germany Greenpeace estimates each plant would in fact run for 35 years in total, if it doesn’t swap its capacity with other plants or utilities.

On the matter of nuclear waste, the deal has managed to get concessions to prevent the highly unpopular practice of nuclear waste transportation for reprocessing. Waste will in future be stored on-site. Reprocessing itself will be banned after 2005. In meantime, waste flasks could be stored above ground.

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