Germany - Plutonium Investigation n°4/5

Germany's Nuclear Sector

The Federal Republic of Germany has developed nuclear power since the mid 1950s. There are several hundred electricity utilities in Germany, but only a dozen large utilities operate the nineteen nuclear power plants in distinct geographical regions. Each of these plants was built by Kraftwerk Union (KWU), the power plant division of the large Siemens group. These reactors generated 169 billion kWh during 1997, corresponding to about 35% of the total electricity production (485 billion kWh) in the country. Six Soviet designed VVER reactors had been operating in the former German Democratic Republic, but were shut down in 1990 after the unification because of safety concerns. The construction of five other of these Soviet-type reactors was abandoned for the same reasons.

One feature which is specific to Germany is highly decentralised institutions. The governments of the sixteen Länder, together with their parliaments (Landtag), share much authority with the Federal government and parliament (Bundestag). Local opposition to a project reverberates further in Germany than in a country with a more centralized decision-making process. Another particular feature is that the political landscape is unfavourable to nuclear energy. While the governmental coalition, led by CDU Helmut Kohl, has been trying for the last five years to come to some kind of agreement with the other major parties on the development of nuclear power - or at least a guaranteed life time for existing reactors - both the SPD and the Greens are clearly opposed to any extension of current generating capacity, or much of the nuclear industry's projects. Notably, no future power plant is planned in Germany.

Although Siemens has launched the Nuclear Power International (NPI) joint venture and invested with the French Framatome and some of the utilities for a new design of nuclear power plant, the European Pressurised Reactor (EPR), it is clear that without a broad political consensus, no order will be made for such a reactor. The possible future election of SPD's Gerhard Schröder to succeed to Chancellor Kohl makes such a consensus even less likely. In fact, it has become clear that not even one of the EPR promoters believes that there will be any new German plant, whereas there are still some hopes that a prototype could be built in France. However, the 20,000 protesters at last year's rally against the vague prospects of a reactor project at Le Carnet in the west of France and the subsequent announcement to abandon any such project by the French government indicate that times are also getting tough for the nuclear industry in France.

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