New nuclear policy voted through

29 October 2010

Germany's nuclear power plants were assured extra operation by a vote yesterday in the Bundestag that completes a year-long change in the country's nuclear policy.


Two amendments to the country's Atomic Energy Act were approved on 28 October that will see the country's 17 reactors operate for an average of 12 years longer. The terms of this include a new tax on nuclear fuel meant to reduce the 'windfall' profit from the change.


Reactors built before 1980 are now allowed to operate for a further eight years beyond arbitrary limits imposed in 2002, and newer reactors will gain 14 years. This changes a 34-year average reactor life limit imposed in 2001 by a coalition of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the Green Party, and represents a success for Chancellor Angela Merkel's centre-right coalition that won power in September 2009.


Nuclear power remains a controversial subject in Germany and the two votes were tight: 308 in favour to 289 against and two abstentions for the first amendment; and 320 in favour, 273 against and three abstentions in the second. Merkel's coalition should in theory be able to garner 332 votes. Politicians from the Alliance 90/Green group submitted some 27 amendments to the two changes but none were adopted.


The new nuclear policy is part of an overall Energy Concept, meant to steer Europe's most industrious country to a generation mix dominated 80% by renewables in 2050. Nuclear power is spoken of as a 'bridge' to that future, but the World Nuclear Association warned that, "No serious energy or environmental planner believes that a major economy like Germany's can be largely reliant on renewables within the next 40 years."


However, Merkel insisted that renewables will meet demand but using a nuclear 'bridge' this will be achieved "with better electricity prices and faster CO2 reductions."


The nuclear operators that generate 21% of the country's power will begin paying some €145 ($202) per gram of nuclear fuel, which works out at around €2.3 billion ($3.2 billion) per year. Operators of research reactors will be exempt. The money will be paid into Germany's central budget for six years to aid austerity measures. It is seen as notionally supporting the costs of radioactive waste management work at Asse.
German nuclear utilities will also be called upon to make annual payments of €300 million ($417 million) in 2011 and 2012 to support renewable development, with this lowering to €200 million ($278 million) for the period to 2016. Beyond that, there is to be a tax on every megawatt-hour of nuclear energy produced that will be placed in a 'renewable fund'. Sources said this would be less than the tax on nuclear fuel.


Separately yesterday a new Energy and Climate Fund was created after a vote of 321 in favour, 271 against and one abstention. The Ministry of Transport, Building and Urban Development then announced the allocation of €436 million ($606 million) to increase energy efficiency in government buildings on top of €500 million ($695 million) already earmarked from the new fund for the same purpose in the coming financial year.


Researched and written

by World Nuclear News