German Federal Minister of the Environment Barbara Hendricks laid it on thick right out of the gate. She called the European Commission's alleged ideas for the expansion of nuclear energy insane and irresponsible. Then German Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy Sigmar Gabriel, who just happened to be in Brussels, enthusiastically belted out the same, wrong, note. He voiced his strict opposition to using European taxpayer money for the resuscitation of a dying technology and said he felt blind-sided by the EU proposal.
Both ministers are on the wrong track, misinformed or breathlessly chasing after an article that gained much attention in Germany for a few hours ahead of its official presentation Wednesday. Nevertheless, one must refrain from joining in on the berating of Brussels, because, despite the fact that it probably plays well at home, the facts just don't add up.
The European Commission did not prepare a strategy paper as Germany's "Spiegel Online" suggested, but rather it presented a discussion paper that is to be assessed by experts. The paper outlines possible research projects in the nuclear technology sector. It's a sector that, despite Germany's decision to phase out the use of nuclear energy, still represents an enormous global market. Not to mention that nuclear power plants are still being built in Europe.
Whether the high cost of such power plants makes sense is a decision that operators and individual nations make - not the European Commission and not "Brussels." The EU is not even responsible for energy policy, so the accusation that the Commission wants to build new nuclear reactors is simply wrong. It is fair to question whether EU taxpayer money should be used to promote a new type of reactors as the paper suggests. It is a point that will have to be discussed. And that is exactly what the supposedly explosive document was about, my artificially agitated German ministers - discussions not decisions.
Germany's nuclear energy turnaround, its complete phase out of nuclear energy and its concentration on renewables, is a German decision, not a European one. Therefore, German ministers should not be surprised when countries like France, Great Britain and Slovakia want to continue to discuss and research nuclear energy. There is also no conspiracy of other EU countries ganging up on Germany. The score is 14 to 14. Fourteen member states use nuclear energy, and 14 do not. All without decisions made in Brussels. Other EU member states are quite skeptical about Germany's about face on the subject. They are watching closely as Germany's energy companies begin to stumble economically in the midst of the energy transition, and it is not something they necessarily want to emulate.
In April, the European Commission published a report entitled "PINC," which addressed the safety of currently operating nuclear power plants and the disposal of nuclear waste. The German ministers should have been much more upset about that report as it included only the fuzziest of formulations on operational safety in all of Europe's oldest nuclear power plants. A plausible waste disposal plan was absent altogether while costs for the disposal of our nuclear inheritance are quietly fudged downward throughout the document. That is the actual scandal. Not the harmless little paper leaked on Monday - all it managed to do was kick up a storm in a teacup.
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