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Germany's half-hearted phase-out

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

German anti-nuclear activists saw the switching off of eight German nuclear power plants with mixed feelings. Eight reactors going offline is definitely a great success, however, it leaves nine reactors running for quite some time and gives the nuclear industry many opportunities to obstruct further progress in phasing out nuclear power.

The limits of the German phase-out became clear in the area of export promotion where it didn’t stop the German government to actively support the building of Angra 3, a new nuclear plant in Brazil. The deal goes back to the German-Brazilian nuclear treaty of the 70ies, which foresaw the building of eight nuclear power plants, a uranium enrichment plant and a reprocessing plant. In reality, it yielded into the building of one reactor, Angra 2, which went online in 2000. Still on the plate is Angra 3, the twin reactor of Angra 2, which existed for decades only as construction site. The original planning and offering was done by German Kraftwerks Union, which first became part of Siemens, then of Areva-Siemens and is now owned completely by Areva, after Siemens left the joint-venture. In late 2009 Areva (at the time still Areva-Siemens) asked for an export credit guarantee for deliveries to the construction of Angra 3 worth 1,3 billion euro (US$1.6 bn). The then new conservative government got rid of the still existing guidelines for export credits as they did forbid the promotion of nuclear exports. The government handed out a guarantee in principle for Areva’s deliveries in February 2010. This can turn into a final guarantee only once the financing of the project is fixed with private banks.

Areva and its Brazilian client Eletronuclear are negotiating with a consortium of mainly French banks including Société Générale and BNP Paribas for the financing. Which was the status when the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe happened.

Guarantees in principle can be cancelled when the legal or factual basis changes. Following Fukushima, urgewald and other environmental organisations addressed chancellor Merkel. They pointed out that the moratorium for the oldest German reactors as reaction to the accident represented a change in the factual basis and should lead to the cancellation of the guarantee in principle. In April an online petition by campact, urgewald and attac asking for the cancellation started. Over 130.000 people signed it until October. In July an action in front of the chancellors office accompanied the attempt to hand over the petition. The Angra case was taken up with a lot of interest by the media, asking what a German phase out might mean for nuclear exports.

Opposition members of the budget committee forced the government in July not to prolong automatically the guarantee in principle (due every six month until the final guarantee is given) in the light of Fukushima and the German phase-out.

Apart from the German phase-out, some facts in Brazil raised further doubt on the project: following the Fukushima accident, a close look into the two existing Brazilian nuclear power plants revealed that Angra 2 had been running for 10 years on a preliminary licence. The head of the Brazilian nuclear authority CNEN had to leave office. Further, existing criticism on the unsatisfactory evacuation plans and radioactive waste storage on site in open cooling pools was reinforced. In July the Brazilian bar association addressed the High Court on the grounds that the congress never voted on Angra 3, which is against the Brazilian constitution. Electronuclear claims that the project has a valid licence from the 70ies, while the bar association argues that after 20 years of de facto stalemate of the project it has to be considered a new projects and needs validation from the congress.

Urgewald and campact addressed the German government and the budget committee on these developments and asked its members to cancel the guarantee in principle. The committee had been involved into the granting of the guarantee as they have to be informed about guarantees surpassing one billion Euro and can reject it.

However, despite the German phase out the government decided to prolong the guarantee in principle and the budget committee swallowed this decision in September. In order to calm critics they demanded a study from Areva showing how Angra 3 takes into account the lessons from Fukushima and reacts to possible problems, especially earth quakes, landslides (regular in the area and often blocking the only evacuation road), floods, electricity supply in emergency situations and evacuation plans. This study is supposed to be done by ISTec, a German institute for safety technology. They did an earlier study for Areva explaining that Angra 3 was in line with international safety standards. Urgewald obtained the study under a freedom of environmental information act request and Greenpeace commissioned an analysis of it, which revealed that the outcome was questionable and mainly a courtesy to Areva. Which suggests what to expect from the new study. The study is supposed to be ready by the end of this year or early next year, which might be the moment when the financial deal with the private banks might be as well ready for signing.

In reaction to the outrageous decision in favour of maintaining the guarantee, urgewald, together with campact and attac launched a protest campaign. It addresses chancellor Merkel and members of the ruling parties with postcards and calls for protest actions in front of the constituency offices of ruling parties’ members. The aim is to criticise the hypocrisy of “phasing out” in Germany and supporting new builds of nuclear power plants in other countries in order to promote German exports no matter what. It is as well to show to the members of parliament that citizens don’t want to be bail for nuclear exports and these kind of export promotion is under public scrutiny.

Source and contact: Regine Richter, urgewald
Email: regine[at]