New German Science Minister Shows Her Hand

BERN, SWITZERLAND--Germany will shut down and dismantle a number of unnecessary nuclear power research facilities, Education and Research Minister Edelgard Bulmahn announced this week. The plan dovetails with the new governing coalition's intention to phase out the nation's nuclear power plants over an as-yet-undetermined time frame.

In her first major policy speech since taking office in late October, Bulmahn said in Bonn on 1 December that some experimental and pilot-project facilities, built for studying peaceful uses of nuclear energy, "will no longer be needed." The facilities, the identities of which were not released by the ministry, will be shuttered "in a way that is safe, uninterrupted, ecofriendly, and cost-effective," Bulmahn said.

Bulmahn also criticized her predecessor's decision to focus most of Germany's space resources on crewed missions. Nevertheless, she insisted that Germany would stand by its commitments to spend nearly $1.5 billion on the International Space Station project--about 40% of Europe's total contribution. In contrast to France's announcement on 30 November to collaborate directly with NASA on Mars exploration, Bulmahn said Germany planned to keep working within the framework of the European Space Agency and would press to continue reforms already underway to streamline the agency's administration, as well as pressure German industry to take a greater role in financing space missions and research.

In general, Bulmahn said the Social Democrat-Green Party coalition plans to stand by its election campaign commitments to significantly increase federal funding for research and higher education over the next 5 years. Even so, the budgets for the nation's two main basic research organizations--the Max Planck Society and the DFG granting agency--are still slated to grow next year by the same 5% proposed by the previous German government. Bulmahn also called for major investments and reforms in Germany's troubled university system, with the goal of making universities more dynamic, flexible, and international.