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Merkel defends nuclear power reversal

The Local · 17 Mar 2011, 17:53

Published: 17 Mar 2011 10:56 GMT+01:00
Updated: 17 Mar 2011 17:53 GMT+01:00

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“If the seemingly impossible can happen in such a highly developed country like Japan, then the situation has changed,” she told the Bundestag in a speech loudly heckled by members of the left-wing opposition. “There’s a fundamental rule: When in doubt, opt for safety.”

Merkel on Monday decided to impose a three-month moratorium on her government’s unpopular decision last October to extend the lifespans of Germany’s nuclear power plants after an earthquake and tsunami caused a partial atomic meltdown in Japan.

“The catastrophe in Japan has an almost apocalyptic dimension,” she said. “We are at a loss for words.”

Seven out of 17 German reactors are scheduled to be mothballed during the moratorium, with several older models likely to be taken off the grid permanently.

The reversal comes just weeks before key state elections for her conservative Christian Democrats (CDU), exposing her to charges of hypocrisy and pandering to a German electorate that is highly sceptical of nuclear energy.

But Merkel denied her change of heart was a cynical grab for votes, telling the Bundestag she had not cut a deal with the nation’s big energy companies.

“This is a regulatory measure. This isn’t a deal, this isn’t an agreement, this is nothing,” she said, adding she still believed Germany needed time to replace nuclear plants with alternative energy sources. “We need a reasonable phaseout.”

But Sigmar Gabriel, leader of the centre-left opposition Social Democrats (SPD), slammed Merkel’s about face as blatant electioneering.

“You’re trying to campaign by playing with people’s fears,” said Gabriel, who was environment minister in Merkel’s last coalition government.

He called for a return to the law that his party and the Greens passed while in power back in 2000, which would shut down all German reactors by 2020.

“How credible are you if you just do this (moratorium) for three months?” he asked rhetorically. “You always denied there was a real danger posed by these reactors. Do you even see your own contradictions?”

Meanwhile, two nuclear reactors affected by the moratorium in the southwestern state of Baden-Württemberg, Neckarwestheim I and Philippsburg I, were quietly shut down overnight by energy company EnBW.

But another German energy giant, E.ON, may take legal action against the government, the Süddeutsche Zeitung reported on Thursday.

E.ON operates two of the reactors to be shut down: Isar 1 in the southern state of Bavaria and Unterweser in Lower Saxony in the northwest. According to paper, E.ON lawyers are calling into question the legality of the forced closure, which was pushed through without a parliamentary decision.

Merkel's decision has come as a bitter pill for the major energy companies in Europe's top economy, E.ON, RWE, Vattenfall Europe and EnBW. Der Spiegel magazine has calculated that the three-month break could cost them a combined €500 million ($700 million).

Story continues below…

And the political payout for Merkel might end up being negligible. A poll published by daily Bild on Thursday showed that an overwhelming majority of Germans thought the chancellor’s reversal on nuclear energy was insincere.

The survey, conducted by YouGov, showed that 81 percent of 1,122 respondents do not buy Merkel’s atomic flip-flop. Only 19 percent of participants viewed her administration’s change of course as “credible”.

But 70 percent still welcomed the government’s decision to shut down the oldest seven of Germany’s 17 nuclear reactors for at least three months. Less than a quarter of participants took issue with the decision.

In the case of an accelerated move away from nuclear energy, 74 percent of survey participants said they expected energy costs to rise, while 19 percent predicted prices would remain largely the same.

The Local/DPA/AFP/mry/adn

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

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Your comments about this article

13:31 March 17, 2011 by freechoice
there are simply too many nuclear reactors in Europe per square kilometers. It is a heavy risk to take if they are still operational, and one big one strikes somewhere near Europe, will cause meltdowns and severe radiation!!!
13:43 March 17, 2011 by jmclewis
Yes Freechoice you are correct, I was just recalling the last tidal wave and 9.0 earth quake in Berlin last year.

Angela, your leadership on this issue is remarkable.......... which ever way the wind is blowing with the public. ¦quot;This is a regulatory measure. This isn¦#39;t a deal, this isn¦#39;t an agreement, this is nothing,¦quot; This is not leadership to make policy in the middle of a crisis.
14:39 March 17, 2011 by dbert4
Good for Angie!

@jmlewis - So you and George Bush are incapable of learning from experience?
14:59 March 17, 2011 by Krim
Chernobyl , now Fukushima.........Do we need more accidents for a décision against Nuclear Energy. No No No

The nuclear Lobby on this earth is so strong to keep forcing governments to invest in this criminal type of energy.

I am sure that if a decision was taken 40 years ago nuclear energy. Alternative energies could have developed much faster.

Solar cells are still expensive because there were no efforts towards mass production. Until now these cells are still be made in much primitive way.

Solar thermal shows how cheaper energy can be created.

The question is did we invest enough in research on renewable energies The nuclear lobby was always there to delay decisions in favor of alternative energies.

Germany should show how it works to France, USA,....etc..)
15:00 March 17, 2011 by derExDeutsche
I'm all for a renewed safety push for all Nuclear plants everywhere. I believe that the only way forward with Nuclear power is to prevent these types of catastrophe in the future. A Chernobyl incident in central Europe is not a lesson you want to learn.

I just hope Merkel isn't planning on moving away from Nuclear solutions. I hope her concern is honest and not just 'never letting a crisis' stop you from ramming something past the voting public. Those of you familiar with Teenage Love may remember this as 'just the tip' policy making. It is never just the tip.

I believe that Nuclear Power is a part of our future, but we should be focused on designing the safest most efficient reactors possible. From my understanding, some of these reactors are over 30 yrs old.
16:11 March 17, 2011 by XFYRCHIEF
Just a few comments: first, a Chernobyl type of accident simply CANNOT happen in Europe or anywhere else - Chernobyl used a graphite moderated reactor - with no containment system - which was banned in all western countries, and even Russia has shut all of them down. The incident in Japan was not caused by the earthquake, it was caused by the tsunami. No tsunami - no cooling problem. @jmclewis - yes we can learn from experience. That is why the current power plants use a gravity fed cooling system instead of relying on pumps. I wonder if someone could do the math and show how many wind turbines would have to be erected to replace all of the nuclear power. And, don't forget, wind turbine have been shown to cause issues with birds, so they are not without their problems.
17:21 March 17, 2011 by cklb
Who cares about birds? I bet that more birds are killed by cars than by wind turbines, even in Germany... The birds are just an argument against wind turbines...
18:01 March 17, 2011 by Zlik
I wonder if the revenues generated by the human animals, they all say "NEED" for this particular energy from these reactors. Calling us customers needy/greedy. + Pay for your usage. Then rising electrical costs.
20:18 March 17, 2011 by XFYRCHIEF
FYI - I did the math on this: Germany currently has a total nuclear power generating capacity of 20000 megawatts (MW); according to the Siemens web site, their largest wind turbine has a capacity of 2.3 MW. It would take 8700+ wind turbines to replace the nuclear power. While nuclear plant are not generating their full capacity at any one time, wind turbines would not be either. And I just wonder how the German people would feel about having almost 9000 wind turbines erected across Germany? And where would they be located to insure a constant source of wind power.

BTW -cklb - I'm hardly a tree hugger, but there are a lot of people who do care about the birds and who have a voice. And when we start becoming cavalier about any life to satisfy our need for electricity, I do get concerned.

I haven't read anything about how we - globally - can reduce our insatiable appetite for electricity. Using energy efficient light bulbs alone won't do it. When we remodeled our house over the last few years we selected energy efficient appliance, increased the insulation, put in energy efficient windows, etc. We all need to take responsibility for a more energy efficient world.
20:53 March 17, 2011 by Zlik
Lewis Latimer invented the electric lamp and not Thomas Edison.

It consisted 8 tungsen filaments and would last much longer as one filament broke at a time. More money from consumers appears to be why it was overlooked in favor of the later. Still used in countries.
00:27 March 18, 2011 by cklb
at XFYRCHIEF: birds are actually not as stupid as most humans think, I heard of birds nesting on the Generator house of windturbines (yes, they had to figure out to land from behind in order not to get shredded). I guess its just as with humans, stupid ones are sorted out on the motorway (unfortunately, unlike stupid birds, sometimes taking other with them)...

BTW, we have more than 25GW windturbine capacity installed in Germany, which comes from more than 21k windturbines which contributes about 6.5% to our power mix. And - unless we stop increasing our total electricity consumption - windenergie is not the solution. It was just able to offset for the increased demand we had over the last couple of years.
01:04 March 18, 2011 by jennyT
@XFYRCHIEF: THANK YOU!!! Finally, someone is thinking about the reality rather than living in a dream world. Unless all of us willing to revert back to the Stone Age (okay, I'm exaggerating a little here), we will need a reliable energy source. What happens in Japan is unfortunately but it is an extreme situation.
08:36 March 18, 2011 by catjones
@Krim...right. We see how Germany shows the world...in Libya. True leadership from behind the lines.

Nuclear reactor meltdowns are not contagious, yet Merkel acts like it's an infection spreading across DL.
10:53 March 18, 2011 by tallady
XFYRCHIEF,,you seem to have a strong interest in this topic and write knowledgeably about it.

I think it takes an incident like the present catastrophe to reignite the safety issues associated with reactors. I doubt that the same circumstances that put Japans reactors on the edge will happen here in Europe.I do think that a serious and rigorous overhaul of safety is in order,however.
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