Thursday, November 17, 2005

German nuclear phaseout to continue

Nuclear Engineering International

16 November 2005

The grand coalition government that is set to take control of the reigns of power in Germany has reached a compromise deal over the planned nuclear phaseout by 2020.

Christian Democrat leader Angela Merkel failed to convince Social Democrat leaders to extend the lifespan of nuclear power plants, after coalition partners the Social Democrats pledged to stand by the original phaseout agreement. Instead, some older plants will be able to operate beyond their original closure date to keep them operating beyond the current legislative period, due to end in 2009.

The right to transfer unused production rights from newer power stations to older ones, so that the operational lives of the older power stations can be extended, secures continued adherence to the phaseout programme. However, there is no guarantee that the treaty would be carried out to its full conclusion leaving the door open to possible changes to the phaseout plan after the next election.

One concern that has been raised is the possibility that if large quantities of production rights are transferred to older units and the nuclear phaseout continues as planned, newer plants will be forced to close down long before their operational lives are due to expire.

Another potentially contentious issue is the proposed Gorleben nuclear disposal centre in the Wendland region of Lower Saxony. Plans include a reprocessing plant, a plant for the production of fuel elements, a conditioning plant, an intermediate storage facility for low-, medium- and high-active nuclear waste as well as a final waste deposit.

The Gorleben site has been studied since 1979 as a potential permanent radioactive waste repository and underground exploration of a salt dome at Gorleben began in 1986. However, the 1999 parliamentary election study of the Gorleben salt dome was temporarily stopped, pending further study of other types of geologic environments and to clarify conceptual and safety issues. A decision on the future of the site has yet to be reached.

Merkel is expected to be elected Chancellor by the German parliament on 22 November.


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