Their parliamentary group has teamed up with Merkel’s office, the economics ministry and experts from the state of Lower Saxony to make “an understanding offer” to the Social Democrats (SPD), the junior partners in Berlin.
“Solving the final repository issue quickly and purpose-oriented” is the title of a paper drawn up by the group, who say it’s aimed at making the debate more objective.
For the first time, the CDU suggests in it that international experts of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development monitor the exploration of a salt deposit in the northern village of Gorleben as a final dump and assess all findings in the light of state-of-the-art science and technology.
By the end of 2008 the OECD nuclear experts should report their analyses to the German parliament so that it could “make a durable and reliable decision”, the paper suggests.
Simultaneously the safety criteria for a nuclear repository, which date from 1983, should be developed further according to international standards.
The conservatives hope this will win the agreement of the Social Democrats because Sigmar Gabriel, the environment minister and a member of that party, put forward similar ideas last year.
“We have to get out of the trenches,” says a CDU MP who helped develop the paper. Maria Flachsbarth insists that there be no more delay in seeking a final repository location.
This was why the exploration stop in Gorleben had to be rescinded immediately.
Flachsbarth also wants the process speeded up to turn a former iron mine, “Schacht Konrad” near Salzgitter, into a repository for weak and medium-active waste. Present plans are for Schacht Konrad to start operating as a dump in 2013.
The conservatives reject any search for an alternative to Gorleben. “No new selection procedure is needed, neither on the basis of atomic law in connection with international obligations nor with view to the practice in other countries.”
In their paper the conservatives also pick up on demands by local government politicians in the Gorleben area that repository locations be given offset payments for the “special burdens” they carry.
For this purpose, the paper suggests, the state and federal levels of government should reach an agreement with the power industry. The paper has no proposals on the amounts to be paid.
But Flachsbarth points out that nuclear power stations make big profits which amount to substantial tax revenues for the local governments where they are located. As repository locations neither Gorleben nor the town of Salzgitter received any additional tax revenue. This was why offset payments were responsible and desirable.
Christian Wulff, the CDU premier of Lower Saxony, where Gorleben lies, has again demanded a quick decision on it. “The exploration has to be completed now to arrive at a result,” he said. He warned against “hasty” plans for other locations.
“I don’t think a trial bore will be made anywhere else before [Gorleben’s] unsuitability is established.”
The Social Democrats have been saying they want to look for possible other sites.
In the pact that is the basis of the coalition government the conservatives and social democrats agreed to “quickly” resolve the issue of a possible final nuclear dump.
Two recent events have heated up the energy debate between the governing parties, Russia’s stoush wit Belarus over the natural gas price and the climate crisis.
The CDU wants Germany’s 17 nuclear power stations to run longer than agreed with the industry by the previous government of Social Democrats and Greens, honoured by the present government, though grudgingly by the CDU, because the two parties couldn’t agree on anything different.
Under the coalition agreement the last German nuke has to be switched off in 2020. Four reactors are due to come off the grid during this legislative period which, if it runs the full course, ends in late 2009.
But the atom power law allows running times to be transferred from newer to older plants. The RWE and EnBW power companies have already applied for longer times for two old plants.
The CDU regards longer use of nuclear power as inevitable, arguing – wrongly, anti-nuclear activists insist – that it doesn’t produce carbon dioxide.
The president of the Federation of German Industry, Jürgen Thumann, also wants the decision to abandon nuclear power reversed. “As step 1 we should extend the running times of our nuclear power stations,” he says.
The exit decision had agreed an average operating period of 32 years, he noted, whereas in countries surrounding Germany average running times had been increased to 60 years.
Running nuclear stations longer than now scheduled would gain time for the further development of alternative energies, in which Germany was already a world market leader, Thumann argued. The ultimate aim was to reduce dependence on nuclear power.
The SPD continues strictly to oppose longer operation and to already declaring Gorleben the final dump.
The head of the SPD parliamentary group, Peter Struck, has suggested “a final repository for Europe”, which the conservatives reject. He spoke of the “weaknesses” of the Gorleben salt.
The idea was also rejected by the Federal Radiation Protection Agency (BfS). “The risk is too great that in the end the safety standards are lower than ours,” said BfS president, Wolfram König.
Moreover, Germany could the also become the destination of nuclear waste transports, he added. There was already big interest in Gorleben abroad, he said.
The agency says neither German nor European Union legislation would allow a Europe-wide final dump.
The idea of international dumping kept popping up in recent years, coming mostly from the power producers.
Some German and other nations’ waste is already going to Russia where, according to anti-nuclear activists, it’s being dumped in the open air under catastrophic conditions. Another country occasionally mentioned as a final dumpsite is Australia.
Meanwhile the neighbouring Swiss have also started debating what to do with the nuclear waste that has accumulated there in 30 years.
Their energy minister, Moritz Leuenberger, intends to let all Swiss have a say in the choice of a final dump. A possible location near Zurich was pulled back after protests. A site is to be chosen by 2017 and be operating by the middle of the century.
Although Switzerland has sustainable energy resources, such as solar, and although the energy saving potential hasn’t been exploited by a long chalk, there’s already fresh discussion about another nuke.
Meanwhile across the border Germans are worried that Benken, just three kilometres into Switzerland, will be the final repository location.
The Germans are concerned that they might not have any influence on the proposed storage of waste 500 metres underground there.