Germany mulls nuclear extension

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

BERLIN, June 7 (UPI) -- The German government will extend the running times of its nuclear power plants by no more than 10 years.

The decision is the product of lengthy government consultations over the weekend, the Berliner Zeitung newspaper reports. It would be a victory for Environment Minister Norbert Roettgen, who has campaigned for no or moderate running time extensions. A host of pro-nuclear state governors had lobbied to extend the running times by as much as 28 years.

The Berliner Zeitung writes that the careful extension course, which hasn't been confirmed by the government, was chosen to ward off any attempts to challenge the decision in court.

German government spokesman Ulrich Wilhelm said Berlin will unveil its overall energy strategy and a final decision on the lifeline of the country's nuclear power plants by the end of July.

But one thing is already clear: Germany's utilities will have to pay for longer running times. German Chancellor Angela Merkel Monday said her government will tax the likes of Eon, RWE, Vattenfall and EnBW for running nuclear power plants. The tax will hand Berlin an estimated $2.75 billion per year. It is part of a larger package of budget savings measures worth $100 billion until 2014, which Merkel and Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle unveiled Monday.

Berlin said last year it is mulling extending the lifetime of Germany's youngest reactors by several years, vowing to scrap the nuclear phase-out plan that foresees to shut down all 17 reactors by 2021.

This has sparked significant opposition with political and public players. More than 120,000 people demonstrated against nuclear power in April, forming a human chain that stretched 75 miles through northern Germany.

The public opposition to nuclear has caused the government of Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union and the free-market Free Democratic Party to revisit their positions regarding the energy source.

Both parties campaigned in favor of nuclear power, arguing that nuclear provides secure, relatively cheap carbon dioxide-free power and should remain in the mix until renewables are ready to take over. After the parties were elected in a coalition in September 2009, they were expected to quickly reverse the planned phaseout but Roettgen, of Merkel's conservatives, repeatedly questioned this plan, pointing to the fact that nuclear power is too unpopular with ordinary Germans and that the reactors should be shut down so that renewables can take over.

Germany's utilities are wary of the delay, not knowing where and when to invest.

They have recently been focusing on Britain's emerging nuclear market. and RWE have decided to team up to build nuclear power plants there, promising to invest around $25 billion in the endeavor.

Posted in |