Austrian Environment Chief on Nuke Lifespan Increase 'A Fatal Message that Will Resound Beyond Germany'

In a SPIEGEL interview, Austrian Environment Minister Nikolaus Berlakovich, discusses his opposition to the German government's plan to extend the lifespan of its nuclear power plants. Austria has no nuclear plants of its own and its residents are concerned about atomic power facilities on the Austrian-German border.

The Austrian government isn't pleased that Germany plans to extend the lifespan of the Isar 1 nuclear plant near the border between the countries.
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The Austrian government isn't pleased that Germany plans to extend the lifespan of the Isar 1 nuclear plant near the border between the countries.

SPIEGEL: German Chancellor Angela Merkel considers her energy plan as the most efficient and environmentally friendly in the world. Is she right?

Berlakovich: I consider that to be totally false. Extending the lifespans of nuclear power plants sends out a deadly message that will resound beyond Germany. In the context of climate change, the whole world is speaking of a strengthening of renewable energies. Atomic energy clearly is not one of them.

SPIEGEL: But nuclear power is also supposed to help finance the expansion of renewable energies.

Berlakovich: Additional money for renewable energies may be good. But not if the nuclear industry is allowed to continue full steam ahead. For good reasons, Austria has no nuclear power plants, and Germany should shut its (plants) down.

SPIEGEL: At the same time, nuclear energy helps to reduce CO2.

Berlakovich: Climate protection cannot function through the nuclear backdoor. Nuclear energy isn't seen as a solution to the problem in the global climate protection negotiations, either. It is a technology from yesterday, and it leaves more questions open than it answers. There isn't a single end storage facility (for radioactive waste) anywhere in the world; additionally, the uranium often originates from crisis regions. You can't call that a renewable form of electricity generation.

SPIEGEL: What role do renewable energies play in Austria?

Berlakovich: A 28.8 percent share of our electricity production (comes from renewables). We want to get to 34 percent by 2020. Germany is only at 16 percent. I have always seen Germany as an important partner in helping create a breakthrough for renewable energy in all of Europe. That's what makes these signals from Berlin all the more disappointing.

SPIEGEL: Germany's chancellor claims that German nuclear power plants are the world's safest. You, however, have warned the Austrian population of the danger posed by Germany's Isar I reactor (which is an older power plant that has been online since 1977, and had been scheduled to be taken offline in 2011).

Berlakovich: That is an old reactor that needs to be switched off immediately. I have turned to both German Environment Minister Norbert Röttgen and my Bavarian colleague, Markus Söder, about the issue. But instead, the reactor is now supposed to be kept online for eight more years. I don't understand it. Isar I isn't located very far from the (Austrian-German) border. For me, it's about ensuring the maximum safety for the people.

SPIEGEL: How did the Germans react to your demands?

Berlakovich: They showed understanding, especially the federal environment minister. Röttgen, for his part, also wants to higher safety requirements for the German power plants, but things have gone differently. Hopefully, we haven't heard the last word yet. And we're not just demanding safety from Germany, but also from our other neighbors -- the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

SPIEGEL: Is it possible for Austria to take action against the plans?

Berlakovich: There is a bilateral nuclear information treaty. I will request a special session so that the Germans can explain their decisions to us. The question is what this might mean for Austria, especially with regard to the reactors located near the border.

SPIEGEL: Does it help that your party, the Austrian People's Party (ÖVP), a Christian Democratic and conservative party, is a sister party to Chancellor Merkel's Christian Democratic Union?

Berlakovich: We actually have a common basis for discussion, but now and then there are fights in every family. The issue now is finding common solutions -- in providing safety for the people, for example. Nevertheless, it is bad that the signals from Germany are also giving a boost to people who want to see nuclear power here in Austria.

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