Coalition Fission Merkel's Nuclear Plan Encounters Mounting Opposition


Part 2: Astonishing Concessions

The government is making astonishing concessions to the industry. For instance, the utilities' mandatory contribution to the alternative energy fund will be reduced should additional safety costs at a nuclear plant exceed €500 million. In other words, by spending more on nuclear safety they will be able to spend less on alternative energy.

The coalition also has major changes in store for Germany's Atomic Energy Act. To expedite construction of a planned nuclear waste storage facility in Gorleben in northern Germany, the government intends to provide regulatory agencies with additional leeway. Under the new bill, which the cabinet is set to ratify on Sept. 28, "expropriation is permissible" for the construction of permanent repositories for radioactive waste and site exploration. The former SPD/Green government had eliminated the government's ability to expropriate property owners.

It is not just the opposition that is up-in-arms over Merkel's nuclear policies. Dissatisfaction is growing within her own party as well. Conservative environmental politicians are calling for a review of lifespan extensions once every three years. And German states are also raising objections. The CDU/FDP government in the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein, which has had its fair share of problems with the accident-prone Krümmel nuclear plant, has complained that the federal government is unwilling to expand safeguards against plane crashes.

Schleswig-Holstein Governor Peter Harry Carstensen (CDU) has officially spoken out in favor of Berlin's decision. But according to the nonpartisan state Justice Minister Emil Schmalfuss, a member of the state's reactor safety commission, new safety measures are needed before plant life spans can be extended. If necessary, a few plants will have to be shut down until they can be retrofitted -- only then would they be approved to go back online.

More Federal Funding

The governors of other states with CDU-led governments are also voicing their demands. They want to have a say in how the promised utilities' contributions to the alternative energy fund are distributed. "States with nuclear power plants, like Baden-Württemberg, should also be involved in the decisions," says that state's governor, Stefan Mappus.

The retrofitting of the power grid alone will cost "sums in the double-digit billions, because the modern high-voltage lines running from north to south have to be moved underground," says Mappus. According to Mappus, the "political credibility" of the nuclear compromise will depend on "how much we do for alternative energies today."

His counterpart in Lower Saxony, David McAllister, is demanding more federal funding as well. He says that "fair compensation is needed for the (radioactive waste) repositories in the respective regions," that is, in Asse, Schacht Konrad and Gorleben, all of which are located in his state.

There is also trouble brewing abroad. Although European Union Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger has no say on the lifespan issue, the situation changes when additional investments are made in the nuclear plants, as required under the new nuclear deal.

"If additional, substantial investments are to be made, from investments in new safety precautions to an expansion of an existing nuclear power plant, notification of the EU Commission is required," says Oettinger. This means that Brussels still has the power to confound Berlin's timetable.

Preparing to Rally

Oettinger also plans to propose a bill in the coming weeks in which he will define parameters for the permanent disposal of nuclear waste. Some of the questions Oettinger intends to address are: "Which rock formations are feasible? What safety standards must be applied to construction and operation?"

Merkel's intention of resolving the nuclear dispute, it would seem, has failed completely. Only eight days have passed since the memorable showdown at the Chancellery and already there are mounting concerns among coalition politicians: How will the public respond to a deal that makes so many concessions to the industry? How threatening might discontent among conservatives ultimately become? And, most of all, how vehement will the anti-nuclear movement's protests be?

On the day the agreement between the administration and the utilities was made public, things were hectic in the Berlin office of the group organizing the planned major demonstration. The phones were ringing off the hook and volunteers were running through the hallways -- one was seen balancing an open pizza box on his laptop.

With just a few days left before the planned protest march, the organizers still don't even know exactly where the rally will take place. They are waiting to receive a list of conditions from the police. "We expect that we won't be allowed to use the lawn in front of the Reichstag," says Laura Eder, who began making preparations for the event at the end of June. "That's why we're planning two alternatives at the moment."

The number of anticipated protestors is also hard to estimate. The organizers have told authorities that they expect 30,000 people. But in late April, 100,000 protestors formed a human chain between the Brunsbüttel and Krümmel nuclear plants -- at a time when it wasn't even clear that the government would choose to pursue such a strongly pro-nuclear course.

Some 100 buses from across the country are expected, as are three chartered trains. Eder and her team are coordinating everything. They have already ordered vuvuzela horns in the hope that the crowd will make enough noise "to exert a lot of pressure, so that perhaps something will come of it, after all."

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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