Berlin’s planned sale of a plutonium plant to Beijing, strongly opposed by the Greens, could be shelved. Brussels has now stepped in to examine whether the deal could breach existing EU export rules.
Burning controversy -- the Siemens plutonium plant at Hanau near Frankfurt.
German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s junior coalition partners from the environmentalist Greens party might just get their way in a row over the sale of mothballed plutonium plant to China.
On Thursday, Greens experts said they were confident the deal would now fall through. "I no longer believe that the sale of the Hanau plutonium plant to China will now take place," Michaele Hustedt, Green party spokesperson on energy affairs told daily Berliner Zeitung. "The project will most likely be covertly and silently buried," she said.
The issue has sparked an uproar among the Green party, who fear China could use the plant to produce weapons-grade plutonium for military use. They say the export also smacks of hypocrisy, since Berlin is committed to phasing out nuclear power on German soil. The plant, built by industrial group Siemens AG in Hanau near Frankfurt, was closed down in 1995 without ever going into service.
Despite Schröder’s instance that Beijing has assured him the plant would not be used for military purposes and there are no legal grounds to ban the sale, critics say the plant, designed to reprocess plutonium to make so-called mixed-oxide or MOX fuel rods for nuclear power stations, could be used to manufacture atomic weapons.
SPD, Greens Agree on International Checks
After days of wrangling, the Schröder’s Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the Greens agreed this week that they would approve the export of the plant only if China formally agreed to let the plant be supervised by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna. In addition, stringent regulations would be put in place to ensure that the plant could not be used for military purposes.
The Greens believe the strict checks will now effectively make it tougher for the planned sale to reach completion. Green politician Winfried Hermann said the planned obligatory supervision would spell "the death of the deal."
A further hurdle for the planned €50 million ($61.29 million) deal surfaced this week when Brussels announced it would check the legality of the proposed sale.
EU eyes plutonium export
The EU Commission is reported to be probing whether the deal violates European Union export rules. EU law states the export of material that can possibly be used for military purposes is subject to the obtaining of a permit. Green members of the European Parliament announced on Wednesday that the sale of the plutonium plant also breached a EU Commission decree drawn up in 2000, which bans the export of all goods that can be used "in any form to aid the production of nuclear weapons."
Greenpeace protests against plutonium export
Greens European Parliament member Daniel Cohn-Bendit wrote in a letter to the EU Commission that the planned deal would "threaten military and other security interests of Europe and its allies."
According to reports in the German media, EU experts also believ the plutonium deal would run counter to the EU’s new strategy against the spread of weapons of mass destruction. The Intergovernmental Conference of EU leaders this weekend also are expected to pass a resolution over tightening existing EU export regulations.
Schröder’s Social Democrats, however, say the deal could yet be salvaged. Government spokesman Bela Anda said on Wednesday that the sale wasn’t threatened by the planned regulations. Ditmar Staffelt, deputy economics minister echoed that view, but added the success of the deal hinged on China and its readiness to comply with international controls.
But Mark Gwozdecky, a spokesman for the IAEA, said the checks demanded by the SPD and the Greens suggested didn’t make much sense. "I don’t know what such controls on-site are supposed to achieve," Gwozdecky told the Financial Times Deutschland on Thursday. "China is a nuclear state and has sufficient fissile material for its arms program. So, why the controls?"