Voting on money worries will boost nukes

von Diet Simon -

Should Germans pitch out their Social Democrat-Greens government next month because they think the Conservatives will put more money back into their purses, they’ll be getting a nuclear industry boost into the bargain.

The CDU/CSU Conservatives are promising to let nuclear power stations run longer and to press ahead with two highly controversial waste storage sites. The present government of Social Democrats and Greens has committed to ending nuclear power production but its anti-nuclear critics say nothing much has moved in that regard. Under an agreement between the government and the power producers, the last nuke is to be taken off the grid in 2021.

Opinion polls show seven out of 10 Germans opposing nuclear power, including a large proportion of those who say they intend to vote CDU/CSU. 67 per cent of the CDU/CSU voters don’t want a nuclear power station near them.

But given the worries over jobs, medical care, pensions, taxes and other pressures on your ordinary German’s purse, nuclear policy is way down on the list of issues swaying votes. By contrast, dropping nuclear energy was one of the bigger vote-getters for the present government of Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s Social Democrats and the environmentalist Greens of vice-chancellor and foreign minister, Joschka Fischer.

Against the odds, Greenpeace, one of the highest-profile environmentalist groups in the country, is valiantly trying to keep the issue on the boil, demanding at demonstrations that the 17 remaining nukes be switched off and that clean energy production be promoted more.

“The future belongs to the renewables, nuclear power stations are a relic from the past,” argues Greenpeace expert, Christian Bussau. “Those wanting to create jobs and to strengthen medium-sized enterprises have to look forward, and that means replacing atomic and coal power stations as fast as possible by decentralised solar, wind, hydro and biomass power stations.” Longer production lives for nukes would merely preserve the 35,000 jobs in that industry a few more years, whereas renewable energies had spawned 130,000 new jobs in recent years.

“People in Germany have good reasons for rejecting atomic power,” says Bussau, “it’s dangerous and uncontrollable and the problem of the radioactive waste has not been solved.” Greenpeace demands that all political parties exit from the industry. The technology musn’t be exported and the specially dug salt mine in Gorleben, northern Germany, mustn’t become a final dump.

The Conservatives are promising that the longer nuke running times will bring down electricity prices. Their critics ridicule that as wishful thinking. Even a top CDU official, Andreas Troge, who heads the Federal Environment Agency, had warned against a turnaround on nuclear policy and dismissed as unrealistic the promise of cheaper electricity. A top executive of the leading Eon power company and president of the German Atomic Forum, Walter Hohlefelder, put it like this: “The power price forms in the market and that’s how it should stay.”

But he welcomes the Conservatives’ wanting to make Gorleben and a former iron ore mine, Schacht Konrad, at nearby Salzgitter, the final waste dumps. Scientific exploration in Gorleben has been suspended since 2000 because the salt in the mine has contact with ground water. Groups of opponents are active at both sites, with Gorleben having become something like the icon of the German anti-nuclear movement. The recent poll found 58% opposing a permanent Gorleben dump.

“Final storage is technically possible in Germany,” Hohlefelder argues. “We have an approved final storage for low and medium radioactive waste in Schacht Konrad. Gorleben is suitable for highly radioactive material. The moratorium on exploration in Gorleben should be lifted. If one wants it politically, disposal is workable, as one can see in other countries.”

Asked whether the 70% opponents of nuclear power impressed him, Hohlefelder said in a newspaper interview that such numbers always had to be taken seriously. “But there are also polls showing the openness in the population growing again.” Did the industry stand by its agreement with the present government to end nuclear power production? “Certainly. The agreement is valid. In the situation it was made in, it was right to limit the power output. The nuclear power stations are running without political disturbances. It was possible to resume waste transports and so prevent congestion of the power stations.”

And if the Conservatives win power? “If the new contracting party wants to talk to us about the agreement we will certainly do so. Basically, we welcome the offer by [CDU-CSU leader] Angela Merkel of longer running times. It would be paradox to ask us not to be glad about that.” Hohlefelder also contends that they’d make the power supply more secure because renewables couldn’t in the foreseeable future fill the gap left by exiting from nuclear power.

Under the exit pact, nukes at Biblis A, Neckarwestheim 1, Biblis B and
Brunsbüttel are to be switched off. “These are reactors with endless flaw lists that had to be taken off the grid many times because of safety problems,” points out Bussau at Greenpeace. "They had to be switched off to protect people. Even the CDU has to recognise that. It can’t just ignore the will of the German population.”

Ms Merkel – like most politicians – is like a weather vane, turning with whatever wind happens to opportune. When she was environment minister in 1998 she said, “The big aim is to raise the proportion of renewable energy sources to 50% by the middle of next century.” In the present election campaign she has said: “I regard it as not very realistic to raise the proportion of renewable energy sources in the amount consumed to 20% by 2020. (…) It is unrealistic to expect that renewable energy sources can close the gap that would be ripped open by early shutdown of the atomic power stations.”

About 50 Greenpeace activists recently blocked the entrance to the Gorleben salt mine. They chained themselves to its entrance gates and blocked the drive into the grounds with their bodies. They pointed to the geological flaws of the salt deposit. They argue that an area of 7.5 square kilometres lacks waterproof cover, which would allow radioactive materials to penetrate to the ground water and contaminate it. Although the salt plug was controversial from the beginning, opponents allege that the mine was not exploratory as claimed but from the outset was built in the dimensions required by a final waste dump.

Two recent court judgements have encouraged nuclear opponents. But they also show the police state methods being used against them.

An administrative court in Cologne ruled that anti-nuclear demonstrators don’t have to pay for all the costs of police actions against them. The court said they can only be made liable for any extra costs incurred by police in excess of their normal deployment. The case was about two protesters who chained themselves to the rails near Gorleben to stop a waste train in November 2002. Federal police had to cut the rails and carry the protesters away, for which the police sent a bill of 1,500 euros personnel costs. The court ruled the bill invalid because police were at the scene anyway. Trying to put costs on protesters is a frequent police ploy - which the judgement is likely to restrain, at least for a while.

The other recent case is really scary in civil liberty terms.

Police secretly spied on a 25-year-old student for two weeks because they suspected he might try to block rails during a Gorleben delivery. The supreme court has now ruled that police cannot listen in to anyone’s phone calls without concrete suspicion of a crime about to be committed. The ruling invalidates a law made in 2003 by the state of Lower Saxony, allowing preventive telephone tapping. Laws existing in the federal states of Hamburg, Hesse, Rhineland-Palatinate and Thuringia allow police to monitor telephone traffic, gather call and location data of mobiles and examine email and SMS traffic.

The vague suspicion against the student was based on his having been noticed at an earlier anti-nuclear demonstration. But an attempt to prosecute him for endangering rail traffic was dropped. The intensive observation and monitoring of his phone calls in the two weeks before last year’s Castor transport to Gorleben yielded nothing useful for the police.

After his lawyer had demanded and got access to files, a letter from the Göttingen police informed the student how he and people near him were shadowed round the clock and his phone calls listened to. “Day and night police stood outside my front door, the police followed me to the university toilet and watched to see if I met anyone there,” the student told a reporter. Even the phone calls of people he shared accommodation with were tapped. Police attached a Global Positioning System (GPS) tracking device to the car of an acquaintance. “It even looks as if they thought I intended to place the vehicle on the rails to stop the Castor train.”

The police explained that they targeted the student because he’d been charged in a previous trial and belonged to the Göttingen Anti Atom Plenum. He was also said to have designed a poster inviting people to an anti-atomic party. The files show that the Göttingen police leadership initiated the observation, fearing attacks on the imminent Castor transport. A local judge only had to approve the phone monitoring, police were free to do all the other activities.

A judge at a lower level said “an uninvolved and innocent citizen” had come into police sights just because he occasionally visited a neighbourhood pub on whose bar stood a bust of Lenin, which made him “suspect” as a “leftwing radical” and “potential phone tap victim”. A Lower Saxony data protection ombudsman objected to the treatment of the student in the supreme court hearing – and got fired for his trouble although he belongs to the conservative party governing Lower Saxony.

Whenever Castor trains set out from France to Gorleben, nuclear opponents and police strategists pay special attention to the “Göttingen eye of the needle”. Despite police bans demonstrators have several times been able to briefly stop the trains there and to demonstrate by the tracks. Once a train even slid through a barricade of umbrellas, which prompted an investigation into dangerous interference with rail traffic. The local court could see no such thing and threw the case out at state expense. But the sharp-as-tacks anti-nuclear scene in the university town of Göttingen remains a thorn in the side of the authorities. “However, it’s totally absurd that the anti-atomic movement endangers people’s lives or health,” says a spokesman, “we’ve always ruled that out.”

Meanwhile a new waste transport to Gorleben has been announced for November. Police sources said the train carrying 12 Castor containers is likely to set out from a plutonium processing plant at La Hague in northern France in the third November week. Last year 21-year-old French student, Sébastien Briat, was killed when the air turbulence caused by a passing train pulled him under it. He and a small group of other activists had tried to stop it in Alsace-Lorraine.

(Adaptations by Diet Simon)

Bearbeitet am: 21.08.2005/ad

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