German ministers clash on nuclear report

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

(Reuters) - Two key German ministers took different positions on Monday on the length of time that nuclear power plants should be extended after Chancellor Angela Merkel reduced expectations for a long extension.

Economy Minister Rainer Bruederle and Environment Minister Norbert Roettgen drew differing conclusions from an expert report -- a study of four different scenarios -- aimed at helping the government form its energy policy in late September.

Bruederle, who strongly favors extending the lives of Germany's 17 nuclear plants beyond their current 2021 shutdown date, said 12 to 20 more years beyond 2021 would bring the greatest advantages.

"All in all, the greatest economic advantage would be realized if the nuclear power is extended between 12 and 20 years," Bruederle said. He said the report showed that would guarantee lower power prices and cut CO2 emissions.

But Roettgen, who has said he wants to limit their extension to eight years, said the report did not take any position on a cost-benefit analysis for the economy.

He said the report showed that there would be very little difference in electricity prices in the future regardless of whether nuclear power is extended by four, 12, 20 or 28 years.

Roettgen said the price difference would be a maximum of 1.8 cents per kilowatt hour long-term and that there was no significant relevance in the amount of additional CO2 reduced with longer nuclear use.

"All our relevant goals are achievable," no matter how long nuclear power is extended, Roettgen said. He also warned indirectly that extending nuclear power would reduce pressure to expand renewable energy.

On Sunday Merkel spoke out in favor of extending the use of nuclear power plants in Germany, saying an expert report to the government found it would be reasonable if the reactors could run another 10 to 15 years.

But she also warned against high expectations and hinted that it would be difficult to reach even 10 to 15 years. Opinion polls show a majority of Germans opposed to extending the use of nuclear power.

Under a nuclear phase-out law passed by the former center-left Social Democrat-Greens government of Gerhard Schroeder, all German nuclear plants are due to shut in about by 2021.

Merkel wants to extend their lifespans while forcing utilities to hand over a least half of their profits resulting from the extension.

The biggest utilities, E.ON, RWE, Energie Baden-Wuerttemberg and Vattenfall have campaigned strongly against the nuclear fuel tax and pushed for a tax-deductible fixed charge instead.

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