The German government is willing to spend millions of euros on atomic research in the years ahead despite a binding agreement to phase out nuclear energy completely. But with the rest of Europe banking on nuclear, German scientists don’t want to miss out on future developments.
German Research Minister Annette Schavan said this week she will increase funding for nuclear research. Her announcement may have come as a surprise to those who believe that more money to be spent on research in this field is bound to contradict an agreement to phase out nuclear energy in Germany completely.
The phase-out deal was struck by the former coalition government of Social Democrats and Greens. It is still binding for the ruling grand coalition of Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Schavan, a member of Merkel's Christian Democratic Union, says that allocating more resources to nuclear research does not really undermine the country's ambition to survive without atomic power. She claims that some 14 million euros ($22 million) annually will primarily be used to enhance nuclear safety, radiation protection and nuclear waste storage technologies.
Young scientists to benefit
The minister also made it clear that the allocated resources would likewise be used to enable young German scientists to keep abreast with the latest developments in nuclear research. With the rest of Europe and many other parts of the world currently rediscovering the benefits of nuclear energy, she argued, German scientists must not lose out because of domestic restrictions.
"Our scientists must stay in the top league," Schavan told the Berliner Zeitung newspaper. "As long as everywhere around us new power plants are being built, we cannot afford to just sit back and invest nothing in nuclear safety and radiation protection."
Skeptics up in arms
But critics of the minister's financial offensive don't trust her announcements completely. Some lawmakers, including Social Democrat research expert Joerg Tauss, are reported to have qualms about her plans. They believe that a good proportion of the additional money earmarked for atomic research may well end up in projects facilitating the development of a fourth generation of nuclear power plants.
"We'll be watching very carefully whether the research minister will actually earmark resources for research on this new line of reactors," Tauss told the Frankfurter Rundschau daily. "If she does, we'll put up a good fight to prevent this from happening."
Germany's Greens party, which has always been the staunchest opponent of nuclear power in the country, views the minister's plans with a good deal of unease and skepticism. Greens co-leader Reinhard Buetikofer said that it would be outrageous if even the slightest part of the extra money would go towards research on the new reactor line.
"Why should taxpayers' money be misused for research on reactors, which will not be built in Germany at all in line with the coalition treaty on the complete phase-out of nuclear energy here", Buetikofer told DW-WORLD.DE. "I have the impression that this would rather be an attempt to subsidize Germany's nuclear industry and help them export its know-how and technology to countries where nuclear energy is experiencing a revival."
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