Germany’s parliament has begun lengthy debate on draft legislation to find the safest possible underground site to stash waste from nuclear power stations for eons. Legislative details have already sparked ructions.
German Environment Minister Peter Altmaier on Friday launched a first parliamentary reading of a bill to establish a broad, 24-member commission to find a geological repository for waste from Germany’s nuclear power stations.
The commission would have until 2015 to first formulate search criteria. The search itself for the “best suited” final repository in stable granite, salt or mudstone “with a view to safety for humankind and the natural environment” is supposed to be completed by 2031.
Delivering a declaration for Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right coalition government, Altmaier said the issue of what to do with Germany’s nuclear industry waste was “presumably the largest and longest conflict in post-war history.”
Friday’s bill introduction follows a procedural compromise reached in April between government and opposition parties in both the Bundestag parliament and upper Bundesrat chamber in which Germany’s 16 regional states or “Länder” are represented.
The parliamentary maneuver follows Germany’s decision in 2011 – in the wake of Japan’s Fukushima disaster – to shut down the federal republic’s 19 nuclear reactors by 2022. Already 8 are idle with non-renewable power generation sources, such as wind and solar, delivering an increasing portion of Germany’s power supply.
Breakthrough, says minister
“After a decades-long debate on how radioactive waste should be safely disposed of today marks a breakthrough,” Altmaier told the Bundestag.
There was “no predetermination,” Altmaier added, neither for federal government’s previous choice of Gorleben – a mined salt dome in the northern German state of Lower Saxony – nor for “any other possible location in Germany.”
Lower Saxony state premier Stephan Weil of the opposition Social Democratic (SPD) party told the Bundestag: “We urgently need a new start in finding a final repository.”
The opposition Greens parliamentary leader and former federal environment minister Jürgen Trittin demanded that Altmeier guarantee no repeats of past, highly controversial train shipments through Germany of nuclear waste casks to an interim facility at Gorleben from reprocessing plants in France and England. The license for Gorleben’s interim facility runs until in 2034.
The commission proposed in Altermeier’s legislation would convene publicly and would draw six members from each parliamentary chamber. Its other 12 members would include scientists and representatives of environmental groups, industry, trade unions and churches.
Civil society ‘under-represented’
A leading anti-nuclear campaigner in Lower Saxony’s eastern Dannerberg district Wolfgang Ehmke told the German Protestant church news agency EPD that civil society was “fully under-represented” in the planned commission foreseen under the draft legislation.
Another campaigner Jochen Stay, speaking to public ZDF television on Friday, accused Altmeier of failing to consult the public before submitting what Stay termed “over-hasty” legislation ahead of Germany’s federal election due on September 22.
On Wednesday, the German Atom Forum – an alliance of German energy utilities and individuals involved in the nuclear industry – refused to contribute toward the 2 billion euros estimated for the intended project to identify a repository.
“Already 1.6 billion euros has been invested for investigations into the salt dome at Gorleben,” said the Atom Forum, adding it could not comprehend more funding.
The upper Bundesrat is due vote on the legislation on July 5 but on Friday that already seemed in doubt.
Another SPD state premier, Torsten Albig of the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein, set Merkel’s government a deadline of June 13 to answer a series of questions on a plans to use the idle Brunsbüttel power station in his region as an alternative to Gorleben for interim waste storage.
Another interim site suggested is the Philippsburg nuclear power complex in the southern German state of Baden-Wurttemberg, which is currently governed by a joint Greens-SPD regional coalition.