RWE Court Ruling Deals Blow to Pro-Nukes Camp

Sunday, March 2, 2008

German environmentalists won a battle in the fight against nuclear power, when a court ruled energy giant RWE couldn't extend the operating life of one nuclear plant by transferring unused capacity from another.

Amid an ongoing struggle over the future of nuclear power in Germany, a German court ruled that RWE could not extend production at its Biblis A nuclear reactor longer than originally foreseen by German law.

The administrative court in Kassel ruled that RWE, one of Germany's largest power producers, could not extend the life of its Biblis A power plant in exchange for having shut down its plant in Muehlheim-Kaerlich, which was shuttered ahead of its legally mandated closure date.

The court ruling was in line with the environment ministry's opinion that allowing one power plant's unused generating capacity to be transferred to another conflicted with Germany's plans to phase out the use of nuclear power.

Second decision of its kind
It was the second court decision that supported German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel's no-nukes stance. In January, a court in the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein reached a similar conclusion, saying Swedish energy company Vattenfall could not transfer energy output from Muehlheim-Kaerlich, where it also has a power plant, to a power plant in Brunsbüttel.

Each nuclear power plant's remaining operational time is measured in terms of the amount of power it is allowed to generate. A 2002 law governing Germany's plans to eliminate nuclear power only allows a company to transfer energy output from one plant to another in very specific cases.

Utilities vs. public opinion
RWE had asked to transfer the allowance to produce 30 terawatt hours of electricity from Muehlheim-Kaerlich to Biblis A. Without the transfer the Biblis A plant would run until about September 2009. Had it been approved, the transfer would have kept the Biblis A plant open through federal elections in 2009.

RWE said Wednesday, Feb. 27, that it planned to appeal the verdict at the Federal Administrative Court.

German utilities -- including E.ON, the world's largest utility by sales -- are battling public opinion and politicians to change an agreement with the government under which they have to shut all their nuclear power plants by the early 2020s.

Hoping for shift in political winds
They want to use their profitable nuclear power stations for several years longer, and hope that a possible change in the country's political makeup could lead to a reversal of the decision to eliminate nuclear power.

Utilities argue that nuclear power produces less carbon dioxide, a gas causing global warming, and would help keep power prices down, as fuels such as coal have climbed to record highs.

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