Confusion spreading over nuclear policy

30 September 1998

The incoming Social Democrat-Green coalition in Germany has said it will impose a timetable of one year for negotiations between the government and utility companies with nuclear assets to try to develop a consensus on the closing down of the German nuclear industry. Speculation in Germany is rife as to how practical the new nuclear policy is and how much impact it will actually have. The closure of nuclear plants would result in utility companies losing billions of Deutschmarks in revenue, but Gerhard Schröder’s incoming government has indicated it will not provide compensation.

Siemens spokesman Wolfgang Breyer said that the nuclear policy is counter to other priorities of the new government, including the economy.

“The government’s most pressing commitment is to reduce unemployment,” he said. “But the loss of capital and the resulting need to import nuclear power from France would not make Germany richer.” Another government commitment is to maintain the continuity of foreign policy. This requires it to honour reprocessing contracts already signed with BNFL in the UK and Cogema in France. Green politician Jurgen Tritten, likely to be Schröder’s environment minister, has said he intends to deal with nuclear waste at the power stations. Siemens is working with Framatome on the EPR project and is also working with French and Russian companies to improve safety at the Kozlodoy plant in Bulgaria and Mochovce in Slovakia. “The German government was a strong proponent of the policy to improve safety standards in east European reactors,” said Breyer. “The new government will not be able to change this.” The ability of Germany to meet its Kyoto commitment to reduce carbon dioxide emissions would also seem almost impossible to achieve should the nuclear closure programme go ahead.

“We have a saying in Germany,” said Breyer, “the soup won’t be eaten as hot as it was cooked. I suspect the policy will be of symbolic rather than practical importance.” Following the German election the French government has reaffirmed its commitment to nuclear power. Speaking in the national assembly, French economic and finance minister, Dominique Strauss-Kahn said his government had no intention of following the German lead. France is also ruled by a socialist, green coalition. According to Strauss-Kahn, Electricité de France is now the world’s most successful electricity utility, thanks largely to nearly 80% reliance on nuclear energy and the government “intends it to remain so”. He added that France’s carbon dioxide emissions are almost half those of Germany, again thanks to nuclear power.



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