Merkel U-turn as Germany to quit nuclear power

GERMAN Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling coalition declared yesterday it would shut all German’s nuclear reactors by 2022, in a policy reversal drawn up in a rush after the Fukushima disaster in Japan.

The coalition, sensitive to accusations it may increase dependence on highly polluting brown coal, said it planned to cut power use by 10% by 2020. But Merkel may be hard pressed to present the plan as anything but a political defeat at the hands of Social Democrat and resurgent Green rivals.

The proposal may be even more ambitious than the nuclear exit planned when the Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens were in power in 2000. It takes eight of 17 nuclear plants offline now and six by 2021.

But it could still face opposition from utilities.

Only nine months ago Merkel announced an extension of the lifespan of unpopular nuclear plants by an average 12 years.

In March, after Japan’s earthquake and tsunami, she reversed that and put Germany’s entire energy strategy under urgent review.

“Our energy system has to be fundamentally changed and can be fundamentally changed. We want the electricity of the future to be safer and, at the same time, reliable and economical,” Merkel told reporters yesterday.

To accompany the nuclear exit, Germany plans to cut electricity usage by 10% by 2020 and double the share of renewable energy sources to 35% over the same period, according to a government paper.

Merkel did not outline further details of the plan but the government paper said Germany’s goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2020 remained in place.

Most voters in Germany oppose atomic energy, which provided 23% of overall power before the seven oldest stations were shut down in March.

A disputed €2.3 billion a year tax on spent fuel rods will not be scrapped, even as the coalition plans to go ahead with the shutdown, environment minister Norbert Roettgen said yesterday.

“[It’s] definite: the latest end for the last three nuclear power plants is 2022,” Roettgen said after the meeting and before leaving on his bicycle.

Merkel’s about-turn has done little to gain her support, but has drawn scorn from the opposition and within her own party ranks. Tens of thousands of people demonstrated against nuclear energy at the weekend all across Germany.

Nuclear policy is heavily disputed in Germany and the issue has helped boost the Greens, which won control of one of the CDU’s stronghold states, Baden-Wuerttemberg, in a March vote.

Germany’s largest power provider RWE, which had suggested ending nuclear power in 2025, signalled its opposition to the deal. A spokesman for the company said the firm would keep “all legal options open”.

“The end (of nuclear power in Germany) by 2022 is not the date we had hoped for,” the spokesman said, declining to comment on the effect of the decision on the company’s earnings.

The decision could still face opposition from RWE’s peers E.ON, Vattenfall and EnBW, the utility companies that run the 17 plants.


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