GERMANY: The end of nuclear power or the end of the Greens?

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GERMANY: The end of nuclear power or the end of the Greens?

Germany's "red-green" Social Democratic Party/Green Party coalition government has delivered on its promise to close the country's 19 nuclear power reactors. Or has it?

An agreement was finalised between the government and the nuclear power utilities on June 14. Previously, the Greens had called for a "clearly defined schedule for the end of atomic power". However, the agreement does not specify a time-line for the phase-out. Instead, it puts a cap on the lifetime output of the 19 operating reactors, equivalent to an average reactor lifetime of 32 years.

According to a June 16 Reuters report, "The sandal-wearing ecologist activists of yesteryear — now the Greens coalition partner in government — will be in slippers by the time the last German nuclear power plant is shut down".

No new reactors will be built. The head of a nuclear power utility acknowledged that building new reactors was "no longer economically viable now anyway".

The Greens' demand that the two oldest reactors be closed before the 2002 national election was dropped during negotiations. The government also agreed not to change current safety standards for nuclear power stations. A Greens proposal for a new input tax on nuclear fuel was also dropped by Social Democrat and Greens leaders.

The June deal allows the continuation of spent fuel shipments to France and Britain for reprocessing until July 1, 2005. After that, disposal of spent fuel will be restricted to direct transport to a final storage site. Efforts to establish an interim storage site provoked demonstrations involving many thousands of protesters — and thousands of police — in the mid-1990s.

Greens leaders, including foreign minister Joschka Fischer and environment minister Jurgen Trittin, have argued that the nuclear deal was the best that could be achieved. Calls by some Greens to renegotiate the deal were "ridiculous" and quibbling over details was "small-minded", Fischer said.

Antje Radcke, a leader of the left-wing faction, said she would sooner quit the coalition with the Social Democrats than accept the nuclear deal.

However, the deal does not appear to have provoked widespread, organised opposition within the Greens. At a national conference of the German Greens on June 23, delegates voted 433-227 to accept the deal.

A group of Green parliamentarians and prominent party officials who call themselves the "New Greens" are attempting to position the Greens as a liberal, low-tax party of the "new centre". Their environmental platform includes cooperation with industry, voluntary environmental codes for industry and focusing environmental policy on the development of "sustainable" high-tech industries.

Naturschutzbund, a non-government organisation, noted in July 1999: "Environmental policy within the Greens now has the same status as in the other parties. It is a specialist policy field dealt with by experts."

Last year, a large section of the Young Greens issued a statement arguing that the German Greens' lurch to the right was not far-reaching or rapid enough. The statement, supported by a number of parliamentarians, said: "We stand for a clear, power-conscious, pragmatic position, but also for a partial replacement of the party's membership ... Put an end to the tales of 1968: we understand very well that the founders have difficulties with the change from a movement to a party ... Yes, you were for another system. Yes, you undertook the valiant but unsuccessful struggle against capital. Yes, for you the employers were part of the Evil Empire. That was false at the time, is still false today.

"Those of us from the second generation, at least, aren't interested in how you made your peace with the market economy. The point is that you have. For us, any questioning of the system arose only for a short period, then it became clear, we are for the system, although we recognise its faults and want to put them right."

BY JIM GREEN

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