W. Germany saves its breeder nuclear reactor

West Germany's Perils-of-Pauline breeder reactor has once again been pulled back up the cliff.

Even at a time of very tight budgets the Cabinet has produced 500 million marks (about $210 million) interim financing to keep the research reactor under construction this summer pending parliamentary approval - and fresh financing - in the fall.

The mid-February rescue doesn't insure the future of the pilot breeder reactor at Kalkar, let alone the future expansion of a nuclear industry that has been stagnating for five years under the impact of long and complex environmentalist and safety suits. But the rescue does keep the West German nuclear industry in the running as a future supplier of fast-breeder technology.

In a press conference announcing the decision, Research and Technology Minister Andreas von Bulow pointed out that all of the European starters in fast-breeder prototypes except for France have run into delays comparable to those in West Germany. Von Bulow noted further that the possible European selection of a common commercial breeder reactor would take place only in the 1990s, and that the Kalkar project would be a strong candidate by then.

Construction of the Kalkar rector began in 1973, with an initial completion target of 1979 at a cost of 1.5 billion marks. It is now scheduled for completion by 1985, with commissioning in 1986, at a cost of over 5 billion marks ($2.17 billion).

It was largely to avert any costly further delays that the government now has decided to fill the financial hole of the next half year. If it had not done so, construction would have had to stop this month.

Under the impact of the current oil glut, substantial economies in domestic energy consumption, and recession, von Bulow successfully negotiated a new government-industry sharing of costs as a precondition for the new financing.

Under the new agreement the private nuclear and electricity industries are providing 1.1 billion marks as of next fall (with most of this already pledged). This raises industry's portion of the financing from 8 to 25 percent. Industry has made its delivery of this money dependent on parliament's lifting of its veto right on the commissioning of the breeder reactor, however.

Von Bulow is confident the Bundestag will take this step, but the Social Democratic chairman of the inquiry commission on nuclear energy, Harald Schafer has already expressed skepticism about any final Bundestag approval.

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