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Germany seeks Swiss nuclear waste talks after storage decision

Germany will seek talks with Switzerland on nuclear waste storage, Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Monday, as Berlin warned that a Swiss facility close to the border would "heavily burden" communities on the other side.

Germany seeks Swiss nuclear waste talks after storage decision
This picture shows a general view of Switzerland's Beznau nuclear plant near Dottingen. It is Europe's oldest functioning nuclear reactor. Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

Germany would have to discuss the decision “through the usual channels with all those responsible in the Swiss government”, Scholz said at a press conference in Berlin.

Swiss authorities said Saturday they had selected a site in the north of the country, not far from the German border, to host a deep geological storage repository for radioactive waste.

A final decision is not due until 2029 but the announcement is unlikely to go down well in Germany where nuclear energy has long been a highly sensitive issue, dating back to the Cold War.

The location of the storage facility would “heavily burden communities on the German side”, a spokesman for the German environment ministry said at a regular press conference.

Conversations with the Swiss government over “compensation payments for regional development” had already taken place, the spokesman added.

After nearly 50 years of searching for the best way to store its radioactive waste, Switzerland is planning to bury spent nuclear fuel deep
underground in clay.

Like Germany, the Swiss resolved to exit gradually from nuclear energy, following the 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan.

The chosen location in Noerdlich Laegern is considered by Swiss authorities to be “the safest site for a deep geological repository”.

German officials would assess the Swiss decision, the environment ministry spokesman said, without giving a timeframe for a conclusion to be reached.

While the nuclear storage facility would be “a few kilometres” away from the border, certain “surface buildings” would only sit two kilometres from German territory, the spokesman said.

Currently, Switzerland’s nuclear waste is being stored in an “intermediary depot” in Wuerenlingen, some 15 kilometres from the German border.

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How European countries are spending billions on easing energy crisis

European governments are announcing emergency measures on a near-weekly basis to protect households and businesses from the energy crisis stemming from Russia's war in Ukraine.

How European countries are spending billions on easing energy crisis

Hundreds of billions of euros and counting have been shelled out since Russia invaded its pro-EU neighbour in late February.

Governments have gone all out: from capping gas and electricity prices to rescuing struggling energy companies and providing direct aid to households to fill up their cars.

The public spending has continued, even though European Union countries had accumulated mountains of new debt to save their economies during the Covid pandemic in 2020.

But some leaders have taken pride at their use of the public purse to battle this new crisis, which has sent inflation soaring, raised the cost of living and sparked fears of recession.

After announcing €14billion in new measures last week, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi boasted the latest spending put Italy, “among the countries that have spent the most in Europe”.

The Bruegel institute, a Brussels-based think tank that is tracking energy crisis spending by EU governments, ranks Italy as the second-biggest spender in Europe, after Germany.

READ ALSO How EU countries aim to cut energy bills and avoid blackouts this winter

Rome has allocated €59.2billion since September 2021 to shield households and businesses from the rising energy prices, accounting for 3.3 percent of its gross domestic product.

Germany tops the list with €100.2billion, or 2.8 percent of its GDP, as the country was hit hard by its reliance on Russian gas supplies, which have dwindled in suspected retaliation over Western sanctions against Moscow for the war.

On Wednesday, Germany announced the nationalisation of troubled gas giant Uniper.

France, which shielded consumers from gas and electricity price rises early, ranks third with €53.6billion euros allocated so far, representing 2.2 percent of its GDP.

Spending to continue rising
EU countries have now put up €314billion so far since September 2021, according to Bruegel.

“This number is set to increase as energy prices remain elevated,” Simone Tagliapietra, a senior fellow at Bruegel, told AFP.

The energy bills of a typical European family could reach €500 per month early next year, compared to €160 in 2021, according to US investment bank Goldman Sachs.

The measures to help consumers have ranged from a special tax on excess profits in Italy, to the energy price freeze in France, and subsidies public transport in Germany.

But the spending follows a pandemic response that increased public debt, which in the first quarter accounted for 189 percent of Greece’s GDP, 153 percent in Italy, 127 percent in Portugal, 118 percent in Spain and 114 percent in France.

“Initially designed as a temporary response to what was supposed to be a temporary problem, these measures have ballooned and become structural,” Tagliapietra said.

“This is clearly not sustainable from a public finance perspective. It is important that governments make an effort to focus this action on the most vulnerable households and businesses as much as possible.”

Budget reform
The higher spending comes as borrowing costs are rising. The European Central Bank hiked its rate for the first time in more than a decade in July to combat runaway inflation, which has been fuelled by soaring energy prices.

The yield on 10-year French sovereign bonds reached an eight-year high of 2.5 percent on Tuesday, while Germany now pays 1.8 percent interest after boasting a negative rate at the start of the year.

The rate charged to Italy has quadrupled from one percent earlier this year to four percent now, reviving the spectre of the debt crisis that threatened the eurozone a decade ago.

“It is critical to avoid debt crises that could have large destabilising effects and put the EU itself at risk,” the International Monetary Fund warned in a recent blog calling for reforms to budget rules.

The EU has suspended until 2023 rules that limit the public deficit of countries to three percent of GDP and debt to 60 percent.

The European Commission plans to present next month proposals to reform the 27-nation bloc’s budget rules, which have been shattered by the crises.