While the Bush administration in the US contemplates authorising the building of new nuclear generating plants, the German government has taken a decisive step in the opposite direction by signing an agreement with the power industry to phase out production of electricity in all 19 of the country’s nuclear installations.
On Monday, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroder and power company executives signed an agreement bringing a plan to shut down the nuclear industry over the next 20 years a step closer. The deal struck between environment minister Jurgen Trittin, a former anti-nuclear activist, and the nuclear industry,
follows a sustained period of pressure from the influential Green party.
Mr Trittin said Monday’s agreement marked an “historical signal” in the re-shaping of Germany’s energy sector. Nuclear plants currently provide almost one-third of the country’s electricity.
The environment spokesman said the deficit will be made up with greater use of renewable energies such as wind and solar power, increased efficiency in other types of power stations, and incentives for energy savings in domestic and business use.
The first nuclear plant scheduled for closure in 2003 is in Stade, near Hamburg. Under the agreement, the remaining plants will be phased out over a 20-year period, although political opposition to the proposals could mean a reversal of plans following a change of government.
Executives from the four companies involved in Monday’s signing – E.ON, RWE, EnBW and HEW – rejected the government’s claim that a “consensus” had been reached with the industry over the exit programme.
The industry had been forced into an unavoidable compromise, that could be reversed under changed political circumstances, they said.
In contrast, environmental groups attacked the government for allowing nuclear power producers a lengthy, and ill-defined, shutdown period.
The plan allows for reprocessing to continue up until 2005 and thereafter if alternative arrangements are not found. The issue of waste has been highlighted in recent months, by protests from green activists who have attempted to prevent the movement by train of spent fuel rods.