German media roundup: Split by the atom

The latest nuclear waste transport to Lower Saxony’s Gorleben storage facility may have sparked angry protests, but the newspapers in The Local’s media roundup on Tuesday were split on the import of the anti-atomic movement.

German media roundup: Split by the atom
Photo: DPA

Germans have long been opposed to nuclear energy, which is why the country perhaps still doesn’t have a permanent storage site for radioactive waste.

The temporary site at Gorbelen in the northern state of Lower Saxony is considered unsafe by many, and there have been protests against depositing more nuclear waste there for years. After a centre-left coalition of Social Democrats and Greens decided ten years ago to phase out atomic power, the demonstrations against the so-called Castor transports from France died down.

But Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision last month to extend the use of Germany’s nuclear reactors for another 14 years stoked new life into the German anti-nuclear movement.

An estimated 20,000 to 50,000 people travelled to Lower Saxony at the weekend to hinder the 11 Castor containers holding 123 tonnes of radioactive waste as a special train laboured towards Gorleben for three days. The demonstrations turned nasty as protestors clashed with some 20,000 police officers trying to clear the way.

The anti-atomic movement hailed the determined opposition as proof that Germans were angered over the government’s nuclear policies. But the cat-and-mouse shenanigans also cost taxpayers around €50 million – and the country still doesn’t have permanent facility for radioactive waste.

Newspapers in The Local’s media roundup on Tuesday agreed the government’s nuclear policies had split German society, but were themselves divided over the impact of the latest demonstrations.

The centre-left daily Süddeutsche Zeitung said the clashes between protestors and police threatened to overshadow Germany’s flawed nuclear policies.

“Opposition to Gorleben has turned into a mass movement of housewives, teachers and farmers,” wrote the Munich-based paper. “But when violence obscures the protest it’s a fiasco, because it’s allows atomic policy makers to distract from their failures. Nuclear waste has to be disposed of safely – but there’s still no concept of just how to do that.”

The daily also pointed out the near impossible mission of the police: to ensure the security of a dangerous transport while not infringing on the right of citizens to engage in peaceful protests against atomic energy.

“But not even five times as many police officers could convince demonstrators the government’s nuclear policies are correct.”

The right-wing daily Die Welt said the violence at the weekend had discredited the anti-nuclear movement and embarrassed the leadership of the environmentalist Green party.

“On Saturday it looked like it would turn out be a family-friendly festival with a political message,” opined the paper. “But on Sunday there were serious, violent clashes between demonstrators and the police. People were hurt.”

The paper then accused top politicians from the Green party, which is currently riding high in opinion polls, of cynically trying to manipulate the anti-nuclear protests to their benefit.

“There was no mention that alternative energy won’t be far enough along in 2020 to supply our nation with enough energy and that’s why even coal power plants are necessary for basic electricity production,” wrote the daily. “More and more have been built since the decision to phase out atomic energy even though these power plants have a disastrous impact on the climate.”

The regional daily Badische Zeitung accused the Greens and the Social Democrats, which approved the atomic energy phase-out in 2000, of hypocrisy in the nuclear debate.

“While they governed they stopped the process of seeing if Gorleben was a potential permanent storage site,” wrote the Freiburg-based paper. “Leading Greens at the time let the reason slip: The lack of a permanent site would increase the political pressure to phase out” nuclear power.

The paper said Merkel’s centre-right coalition, however, was not handling the issue any better. “That the government is now forcing the exploration of Gorleben without looking for any alternative locations shows a chilling sort of narrow-mindedness.”

But the left-wing Frankfurter Rundschau said it was now futile to try and turn Gorleben into a permanent storage facility in the face of the virulent opposition.

“The opposition to Gorleben has existed for over 30 years and it will still exist 30 years from now,” wrote the paper, adding that the Greens and Merkel’s conservatives must stop trading the blame for who caused the protests.

“The only thing that can help now is starting the search for a permanent site from scratch with the most possible transparency and citizen participation.”

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German government announces fresh relief package for high energy costs

With Russia's invasion in Ukraine exacerbating high energy and petrol prices, Germany is set to introduce a second relief package to limit the impact on consumers.

German government announces fresh relief package for high energy costs

The additional package of measures was announced by Economy and Climate Protection Minister Robert Habeck (Greens) on Sunday.

Speaking to DPA, Habeck said the wave of price increases throughout the energy sector were becoming increasingly difficult for households to bear.

“Extremely high heating costs, extremely high electricity prices, and extremely high fuel prices are putting a strain on households, and the lower the income, the more so,” he said. “The German government will therefore launch another relief package.”

The costs of heating and electricity have hit record highs in the past few months due to post-pandemic supply issues. 

This dramatic rise in prices has already prompted the government to introduce a range of measures to ease the burden on households, including abolishing the Renewable Energy Act (EEG) levy earlier than planned, offering grants to low-income households and increasing the commuter allowance. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: What Germany’s relief package against rising prices means for you

But since Russia invaded neighbouring Ukraine on February 24th, the attack has been driving up energy prices further, Habeck explained.

He added that fears of supply shortages and speculation on the market were currently making the situation worse. 

How will the package work?

When defining the new relief measures, the Economics Ministry will use three criteria, Habeck revealed. 

Firstly, the measures must span all areas of the energy market, including heating costs, electricity and mobility. 

Heating is the area where households are under the most pressure. The ministry estimates that the gas bill for an average family in an unrenovated one-family house will rise by about €2,000 this year. 

Secondly, the package should include measures to help save energy, such as reducing car emissions or replacing gas heating systems.

Thirdly, market-based incentives should be used to ensure that people who use less energy also have lower costs. 

“The government will now put together the entire package quickly and constructively in a working process,” said Habeck.

Fuel subsidy

The three-point plan outlined by the Green Party politician are not the only relief proposals being considered by the government.

According to reports in German daily Bild, Finance Minister Christian Lindner (FPD) is allegedly considering introducing a state fuel subsidy for car drivers.

The amount of the subsidy – which hasn’t yet been defined – would be deducted from a driver’s bill when paying at the petrol station. 

The operator of the petrol station would then have to submit the receipts to the tax authorities later in order to claim the money back. 

Since the start of the war in Ukraine, fuel prices have risen dramatically in Germany: diesel has gone up by around 66 cents per litre, while a litre of E10 has gone up by around 45 cents.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: The everyday products getting more expensive in Germany

As well as support for consumers, the government is currently working on a credit assistance programme to assist German companies that have been hit hard by the EU sanctions against Russia.

As reported by Bild on Saturday, bridging aid is also being discussed for companies that can no longer manage the sharp rise in raw material prices.

In addition, an extension of the shorter working hours (Kurzarbeit) scheme beyond June 30th is allegedly being examined, as well as a further increase in the commuter allowance.