German nuclear phase-out talks advance

Government threatens compulsion unless generating industry agrees a plan within a year

The new German government will seek to agree a joint plan with electricity generators within one year for phasing out nuclear power, it emerged yesterday after a new round of coalition talks between the ruling Social Democrat (SPD) and Green parties.

Within one hundred days of taking office, the new government has pledged to amend the objective of existing atomic legislation to be a nuclear power phase-out "in the coming years". Over the next 12 months, government and industry representatives will discuss a timetable for shutting down Germany's 19 nuclear reactors, an SPD spokesperson told ENDS Daily. If no agreement was reached by the end of this period the government would propose a legislative timescale itself.

Environmental groups have hailed the news as a "historic turning point." But it is possible that no law setting out an actual phase-out timetable will be passed before the next general election in four years. If the government fails to reach a voluntary agreement with the nuclear industry, introduction of legislation will take time, and could be disrupted by dissent among the SPD's ranks, according to commentators.

Most commentators agree that the SPD is unlikely to push for quick decommissioning, except for maybe the oldest reactors. The Greens are more fundamentally anti-nuclear but as the junior coalition partner wield more limited influence. "I don't think industry is really nervous," one observer told ENDS Daily, "but the Greens have managed to keep [a nuclear phase-out] on the agenda and this is significant".

One-third of German electricity is currently nuclear. An SPD environment spokesperson told ENDS Daily a phase-out would need to be combined with an increase in the contribution of renewable energy from 2-3% to 10% in 10 years and the introduction of energy efficiency measures. He claimed that Germany currently has a nearly 100% electricity generation over-capacity.

The new government has also declared it will stop sending irradiated nuclear fuel elements to reprocessing plants in France and the UK. These are currently suspended after surface contamination was found on the containers, causing a public outcry (ENDS Daily 25 May). The Greens are pushing for a quick halt to reprocessing of German fuel, but the SPD is less likely to support an immediate halt.

The heads of Germany's electricity companies met today in Munich to discuss the new government's policy and declared their readiness to engage in talks. The SPD and the Greens will finalise a formal coalition document outlining broad policy agreements early next week.

Follow Up:
SPD, tel: +49 228 5321; Green Party(http://www.gruene.de), tel:+49 228 916 6134.

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