Growth of budding nuclear power industry is still beset by earnest political opposition
Despite the growing pressure, most recently fired by the Gulf war, to develop a substitute for oil, the future of West Germany's nuclear industry still hangs in balance.
By confirming the old coalition of Social Democrats and Liberals, the Oct. 5 parliamentary election failed to overcome any of the existing barriers to developement of the nuclear industry.
The coalition led by Chancellor Helmut Schmidt and Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher did increase its overall parliamentary majority to a handsome 45 members.
But Social Democrat Schmidt and Liberal leader Genscher must each still cope with party left wings that remain basically hostile to nuclear power.
Whether they now have the power and the will to amend the laws and regulations that opponents of nuclear power have used to get court injunctions preventing or delaying nuclear plant construction remains to be seen.
In any event, they will need the support of the opposition Christian Democratic Union, at least in the Council of States, the upper house of Parliament, which must consent to regulations and laws involving nuclear safety.
Three new nuclear power plants went on stream in West Germany during 1979, bringing the number of operating nuclear power plants to 14, generating 9,059 megawatts, supplying 14.3 percent of West Germany's electricity, or 3.4 percent of its primary energy.
Eleven more plants are under construction. But work on at least one has been suspended by court order, while the construction of others has been interrupted or delayed by various injunctions. All are running far behind schedule.
No new application for a license to build a nuclear plant has been made since 1978, with the power industry holding back until the political and legal situations are sorted out.
By comparison, France has 18 plants on stream, 29 under construction, and 11 more ordered. It intends to meet half its electricity requirement from domestic nuclear power plants by 1985.
The environmentalist groups that have succeeded in blocking or delaying nuclear plant construction in West Germany came together for the Oct. 5 election in a loosely organized political party called "the Grreens." But it pulled only 1.5 percent of the national vote, too little to be represented in parliament.
But the antinuclear groups within the governing parties will give Mr. Schmidt and Mr. Genscher trouble enough.
Schmidt himself is generally pro-nuclear power, concerned that carbon dioxide emission from coal-fired generators will poison the atmosphere.
But his Social Democratic Party's platform, adopted in Berlin in December, says domestic coal could meet the need. This overlooks power industry claims that nuclear- generated electricity already costs less than electricity generated by domestic coal.
Genscher's Free Democrats, as the German Liberals style themselves, are on record as wishing to explore all possibilities of making nuclear energy superfluous, but apparently accept the need of expanding the nuclear energy industry in the meantime.
A couple of yeats ago, Mr. Schmidt worried out loud and rather mysteriously about the possibility of a uranium cartel eventually succeeding to the existing OPEC oil cartel. West Germany would be outside each, as it lacks both oil and uranium.
This was a major reason that the Schmidt government sloughed off American objections to its agreement to provide Brazil with a nuclear industry in return for rights to explore for and exploit uranium.
At the same time, the government wants to develop a nuclear fuel recycling program in Germany, to reduce its dependence on uranium. But the antinuclear lobby opposes this as vehemently as it does proposals to construct underground caverns to store nuclear wastes not recycled. The lobby uses both the courts and violent demonstrations to block these plans.
Lately, the Roman Catholic German Biships Conference entered the debate, warning that nuclear energy must be surrounded by appropriate safeguards, and saying that even then, the authorities should not concentrate on nuclear energy, but simultaneously develop alternate sources.
Peter Von Siemens, head of the Siemens Corporation, West Germany's fourth-largest enterprise and its biggest electrical company, put industry's view in a recent speech.
"Despite increasing progress in the substitution of oil and conservation of energy, we still consider nuclear energy essential, "Mr. Von Siemens said. "It is a dangerous illusion to believe that we can get along without nuclear energy."