Parliament approves shutdown

1 January 2002

The Bundestag, Germany's lower house of parliament, approved shutdown of the country's 19 nuclear plants within 20 years, fulfilling a pledge by chancellor Gerhard Schröder. The law does not need approval in the upper house (the Bundesrat).

Under the legislation, the first plants will be closed in 2003 and the last in 2021. Waste will be permitted to be stored in the plants for up to 40 years. Transport of waste will only be allowed until 1 July, 2005. The measure includes a ban on building new nuclear plants.

The German atomic forum said it welcomed the fact that the legal basis of the accord was in place. "The energy companies get a framework for undisturbed running of nuclear plants," it said.

The leading opposition party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), argued that eliminating nuclear energy would force Germany to use dirtier power sources. If it returns to power, it would reverse the legislation. CDU environment spokesman Peter Paziorek said the decision to decommission nuclear power is a "historical mistake". He added: "It endangers security of supply in Germany and also questions our climate-political aims." The shutdown of Obrigheim, the country's oldest PWR, is likely to be one of the first indicators of how the legislation will work in practice. Gerhard Goll, CEO of Energie Baden-Württemberg, (EnBW) said the company will operate the unit for five years longer than agreed in the phase-out deal. The agreement between utilities and chancellor Schröder anticipated that the unit would be allowed to operate until it had generated 8.7TWh from January 2000. The 357MWe unit is due to reach this limit by the end of the year, but EnBW plans to transfer some KWh allotted to the either Philippsburg 2 or Neckarwestheim 2 to Obrigheim. Mr Goll said chancellor Schröder informally approved extending Obrigheim's lifetime, but the Greens said they will strongly resist attempts to transfer generation allowances from newer reactors to older ones. The next federal election will be held at the end of this year, a few weeks before Obrigheim is expected to reach its generation limit.

Meanwhile, economics minister Werner Müller published a government energy policy paper warning that "over-ambitious" targets for greenhouse gas emissions cuts would damage the economy and reduce national energy security. The report reveals a deep rift between the Federal Ministry of Economy (headed by Müller) and the Federal Ministry of Environment & Nuclear Safety.

The report presents two scenarios for greenhouse gas emissions levels in 2020 (compared to 1990 levels), assuming that a majority of the country's nuclear plants will be shut down by then. The first scenario, described as the most likely, foresees a 16% reduction in emissions. Between 1990 and 1999, German emissions levels were cut by 15% — largely attributed to the economic consequences of reunification. The second scenario assumes that emissions are reduced by 40% by 2020. This figure, though never officially agreed as government policy, was discussed by a Bundestag commission before the 1998 election, and was recently claimed to be both necessary and economically feasible by environment minister Jürgen Trittin.

The study concludes that the 16% target could be reached without significant economic consequences. However, the 40% target would involve massive cuts in coal use, an increase in energy dependence to about 76% and total estimated costs to the German economy of over r255 billion. The report pointed out that when the Bundestag commission set the 40% target, it did not assume that a new Social Democratic Party (SPD)-Green coalition would be elected in 1998 and legislate to phase out nuclear power over the same period.

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