Timm: Nuclear Phase-out Is a Fatal Mistake

Berlin, 11.05.2000

Speaking at a conference organised by the German Atomic Forum today (11th May) in Berlin, Manfred Timm, Managing Director of HEW (the Hamburg power utility), described the politically planned shut-down of German nuclear power plants as a "fatal mistake". "It would make far more sense to leave the decision to the utilities as to when they should close their plant down for economic reasons", Mr Timm said, and added: "This procedure would not be seen as capitulation before the utilities, but as a normal process within the proper working of a free economic system." Mr Timm also went on to say that this procedure would not represent a decision "for all time" but would only keep one option open for an energy supply system that would be gentle on the climate and the environment "until an economically sensible alternative has been found".

Manfred Timm demonstrated the economic significance of power plants for electricity supply, and thus the related advantages in competition for the utilities, by showing operating costs. "It is the low fuel costs in particular that are giving companies an opportunity to use nuclear power plants as a strategic weapon in competition, as the fuel growth rate of no more than 1 pfennig per kilowatt hour cannot be attained by other power plants." It would be tantamount to massive interference with the competitiveness and freedom of decision of the companies affected, he went on to say, if they were forced to drop their sharpest sword because of state interference and political orders. "Such an arbitrary destruction of capital is indefensible in business and economic terms", the HEW boss said. "The variable operating costs of all nuclear power plants are lower than those from any kind of power plant based on heat". Mr Timm summarised his point of view thus: "From the economic point of view, the only course of action that would make sense at the present time would be to shut down expensive oil-fired power plants and gas turbines."

Eliminating nuclear power in Germany would result in electricity being imported from other countries since the Federal government has not yet come up with any workable plan for replacing the power from nuclear energy, as Mr Timm forecast. "France, Italy, Poland, and Switzerland are sitting on excess capacity, which they could if necessary use inexpensively to meet demand in Germany. There can be no disputing the fact that power would then be imported from nuclear plants in France and Eastern Europe, or from coal-fired power plants that do not meet our safety and environmental standards. Such a policy thus only serves to encourage the continued use of nuclear energy in other countries by raising the revenue from these power plants and improving their economic basis. Imports of this kind could not be prevented due to the European Energy Charter and the WTO rules on free trade in merchandise. And why should these countries then follow the German example of phasing out nuclear power?" Mr Timm asked. On top of this, there is capacity available from soviet-style nuclear power plants, with all their well known safety shortcomings, which can produce electricity at very low prices.

Mr Timm took the United States as his example in order to show how nuclear energy can prove its worth and establish itself even when under heavy cost pressure and facing tough competition, mainly from gas-fired power plants. Because nuclear power plants represent a valuable option in the power generation market, and can be used inexpensively, Mr Timm said that in the USA "applications for extending the operating licences of five power plants from 40 to 60 years have already been submitted, and similar applications are expected from a further 19. The Managing Director of HEW also pointed out that operating licences for German power plants do not have a time limit, and added: "The investment costs per kilowatt expected to be necessary in the nuclear power plants where the capital costs have already been written off are one whole order of magnitude (!) lower than the cost of building a new fossil-fuel power plant - to be precise, / kW compared with 0 to 0 / kW. Mr Timm therefore considers that it is perfectly conceivable that nuclear power will experience a renaissance in Germany in a few years` time.


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