German nuclear reactor row goes to higher court

Thursday, January 17, 2008

FRANKFURT (Reuters) - A court ruled on Wednesday that a dispute between the German government and a power group about whether to close a major nuclear reactor will be referred to the country's Federal Administrative Court.

The decision prolongs a dispute between the operator, Vattenfall Europe, which last year applied to keep the 806 megawatts plant open beyond 2010, and the Environment Ministry, which threw out the application.

It comes amid a wider debate in Germany over nuclear power, which the industry says is cheap and free of climate-damaging carbon emissions. Critics say it is risky and the waste cannot be disposed of.

Vattenfall said that a regional court in Schleswig Holstein state, where the Brunsbuettel site is located, ruled that the federal judges at the court in Leipzig needed to clarify whether Vattenfall may borrow spare production rights from an old plant.

In theory, Brunsbuettel must close under an eight-year old nuclear exit program but rival RWE would agree to a transfer of production quotas from its idled Muehlheim Kaerlich reactor to Brunsbuettel to extend its lifespan to 2012.

"Such transfers are expressly allowed," said Vattenfall, which has also filed a separate and alternative application to transfer similar quotas from its own Kruemmel plant to Brunsbuettel instead, should the Muehlheim Kaerlich plan fail.

This is the latest twist in the battle between Germany's nuclear industry, which has the support of many conservative politicians -- and the ministry, which is headed by a Social Democrat who sticks to the deal to phase out all plants by 2021.

Similar applications by RWE to keep its Biblis A plant open longer and another one by EnBW to run its Neckarwestheim 1 plant longer than planned have also been rejected in the first round, but reviews are pending.

(Reporting by Vera Eckert, editing by Anthony Barker)

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