After a controversial debate, the German Parliament (Bundestag) voted in favour of two amendments of the Atomic Energy Act (AtG). Bundestag also cleared two new laws concerning an energy and climate fund and a nuclear fuel rod tax. The government’s recently presented Energy Concept also got parliamentary approval.UPDATE
The existing Atomic Energy Act, passed by a previous government, limited the maximum amount of electricity that could be produced by each nuclear power plant. The limitation was intended to shut down the last nuclear power plant by 2022.
With the new 11th amendment of the AtG, the German nuclear power plants are allocated additional generation quantities. These additional quantities shall lead to an extension of the operating times of the 17 German nuclear power plants for an average of 12 years. Nuclear power plants that started operating in or before 1980 will get generation quantities that shall last for an additional 8 years. Newer plants shall get quantities that shall allow an extension of 14 years.
The 12th amendment of AtG adds provisions necessary to transpose Directive 2009/71/Euratom into German law. Furthermore, the amendment introduces further safety requirements for nuclear power operators, obliging them to further develop and refine safety standards in accordance with the development of science and technology. The amendment also contains a provision allowing expropriations in favour of the exploration and operation of nuclear waste disposal sites.
The new nuclear fuel rod tax law shall enter into force on 1 January 2011. Until 31 December 2016, it levies taxes on nuclear fuel rods which are commercially used to generate electricity. The government expects to raise EUR 2.3 billion per year.
The law on the new Energie- und Klimafonds (Energy and Climate Fund – EKFG) creates a special purpose energy and climate fund. The money shal be used for the promotion of an environmentally-friendly, reliable and affordable energy supply, for instance with respect to energy-efficiency. Revenue will mainly come from a contractual agreement of the nuclear power plant operators with the German state that skims off part of their extra profits.
In the comments Silke Beck points to some potential problems with the legitimacy of the German nuclear power decision:
Yes, it is time to opening up the discussion on Germany’s energy future, but not a cost of its democratic achievements.
There is a remarkable gap between the idea of nuclear power as a bridging technology and the concrete outcome of German nuclear agreement. The agreement in its current form (Atomkonsens) is certainly not a rational, efficient and far-reaching strategy but a typical lowest common denominator-solution reflecting the short-term interest driven logic of neocorporatist regulation. The SPIEGEL called it 'A Gift to the Nuclear Industry'.
The “atom consensus” was reached behind closed doors. The Federal countries, the “Bundesrat” and even the German Ministry for Environment were excluded (http://www.zeit.de/
wirtschaft/2010-09/ atomkonsens-roettgen?page=all& print=true).
The lack of accountability and violation of democratic rules and the rule of law contribute to undermine the trust into the government and its deal.
“The cloak-and-dagger approach contributed to spark suspicions among the public that the government had reached a secret agreement benefiting the power companies” (http://www.spiegel.de/
Even if democratic procedures are not guarantees for a rational and effective outcome, they may contribute to make critical aspects such as the question of waste disposal and the security of power plants and their costs more transparent and agencies who are responsible for dealing with them more accountable and thus far-reaching policies more acceptable.