Monday, 13 June 2011

Germany to switch off nuclear power

31 May 2011, Page: 10

BERLIN: Germany yesterday announced plans to become the first major industrialised power to shut down all its nuclear plants in the wake of the Fukushima disaster in Japan, with a phase out due to be wrapped up by 2022. Environment Minister Norbert Roettgen announced the decision by the centre Right coalition, describing it as "irreversible".

"After long consultations, there is now an agreement by the coalition to end nuclear power", Mr Roettgen said after seven hours of negotiations into the early hours at Chancellor Angela Merkel's offices. "This decision is consistent, decisive and clear".

Germany has 17 nuclear reactors on its territory, eight of which are currently off the electricity grid. Seven of those offline are the country's oldest nuclear reactors, which the federal government shut down for three months pending a safety probe after the Japanese atomic emergency at Fukushima following the March earthquake and tsunami.

The eighth reactor is the Kruemmel plant in northern Germany, which has been mothballed for years due to technical problems. The decision makes Germany the first major industrial power to announce plans to give up atomic energy entirely. But it also means the country will have to find the 22% of its electricity needs currently covered by nuclear reactors from another source.

Mr Roettgen insisted there was no danger of blackouts. "We assure that the electricity supply will be ensured at all times and for all users", he said, without providing details. Last Friday, the environment ministers from all 16 German regional states called for the temporary order on the seven plants to be made permanent.

Mr Roettgen yesterday said none of the eight reactors offline would be reactivated. Six further reactors would be shut down by the end of 2021 and the three most modern would cease operation by the end of 2022. Yesterday's decision is effectively a return to the timetable set by the previous Social Democrat Green coalition government a decade ago.

And it is a humbling U turn for Ms Merkel, who at the end of last year decided to extend the lifetime of Germany's 17 reactors by an average of 12 years, which would have kept them open until the mid 2030s. That decision was unpopular in Germany even before the earthquake and tsunami damaged the Fukushima facility.

Ms Merkel's zig zagging on Source: European Nuclear Society, what has been a highly emotive issue in the country since the 1970s has cost her at the ballot box. Ms Merkel has blamed the nuclear disaster at Fukushima for recent defeats in state elections. In the latest, on May 23, the anti nuclear Greens pushed her conservative party into third place in a vote in the northern state of Bremen, the first time they had scored more votes than the conservatives in a regional or federal election.

In the late night wrangling in Ms Merkel's fractious team, the pro business Free Democrats (FDP) argued against a fixed end date for nuclear power, and to maintain two reserve reactors in case of energy shortages.

FDP sources said there would be a contingency plan with one reactor, but did not provide details. The Christian Social Union, the Bavarian sister party of Ms Merkel's Christian Democrats, fought for an exit within 10 years. Some coalition members had called for a built in review clause, which could have allowed the decision to be revisited, but this was thrown out.

Mr Roettgen said the government had largely followed the recommendations of an ethics panel, appointed by Ms Merkel after the Japan meltdown, which called for an end to nuclear power in Germany within a decade.