Deal struck on German nuclear phase-out

Companies win average 35-year plant lifetimes, government pledge of no further restrictions

The German government and four electricity utilities have finally agreed to phase-out nuclear power in Germany, following 20 months of stormy negotiations. The agreement must still be ratified by the governing SPD and Green coalition and by shareholders of six firms that own nuclear power stations.

Though the nuclear industry continues to argue that phase-out is unnecessary, it appears to have more to smile about in the final deal than the anti-nuclear movement. No German stations are required to shut before the next general elections in 2002, there is no date set for closing the last station, and stations will operate for longer than wanted by the Greens.

Most elements of the deal are similar to a version leaked last week (ENDS Daily 9 June). Its central plank is that Germany's 19 nuclear power stations will be allowed to generate no more than 2,623.30 terawatt hours (TWh) of electricity after 1 January 2000.

According to the German atomic forum, this means each station will be able to operate at full power for an average of 32 years, or about 10 years less than they would without the phase-out. Because power stations don't always operate at full power, their average complete lifetimes will therefore be very nearly 35 years.

The agreement specifies individual production limits for each power station, but companies will be allowed to switch these amounts freely between stations to maximise operating efficiencies. This makes it impossible to say exactly when each station will close or when the last one will shut. The industry said today that the last station would not close until "well into the 2020s".

Production rights can also be traded between companies, but an industry spokesperson told ENDS Daily that this was unlikely to happen, claiming that they would be too valuable a resource for any firm to give up.

Other elements of the deal are that the government commits not to introduce further economic or taxation measures that would hurt the industry, nor to further strengthen safety standards. The mothballed Mülheim Kärlich power station will have lifetime production rights of 107.25 TWh, which operator RWE will be able to transfer to other stations.

Transports of spent fuel for reprocessing are to be allowed to restart, but will end after five years, when current contracts with reprocessing firms in the UK and France expire. Two existing final nuclear waste disposal projects at Konrad and Gorleben will be maintained, though the controversial Gorleben site will be put on ice for 3-10 years.

A new atomic law will be drafted to formalise the deal, including a ban on construction of new nuclear power stations. A working group will be created to deal with any future issues around implementation of the deal, coordinated by chancellor Gerhard Schröder rather than by anti-nuclear environment minister Jürgen Trittin.

Follow Up:
German government, tel: +49 30 40000, and final consensus document.

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