Germany sits alone in G8 on nuclear power

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Germany will be the last of the world’s eight leading industrial nations to oppose the use of nuclear power as a clean and durable alternative to coal and gas when G8 leaders meet in Hokkaido, Japan, next Thursday.

With Italy having joined the pro-nuclear camp since the election of Silvio Berlusconi, Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, will now face seven opponents in her effort to water-down a final communiqué that is set to name nuclear power as a prime weapon in the fight against climate change.

This year, however, the confrontation will have particular piquancy as it coincides with the launch by the Christian Democratic Union, Ms Merkel’s party, of its biggest public relations offensive in favour of reversing Germany’s scheduled phasing-out of nuclear plants.

Ronald Pofalla, secretary-general of the CDU, has said the party will make a renewed push to scrap the phase-out deal ahead of the general election of September 2009. “We are experiencing a renaissance of nuclear energy,” Mr Pofalla said, pointing to the UK, Finland and Switzerland as examples of countries that were planning to build power plants.

The CDU thinks Germany, one of the biggest supporters of a tough post-Kyoto agreement on climate, will fail in its pledge to cut emissions unless it allows power companies to extend the lifetime of their plants beyond the 2020 deadline.

Mr Pofalla said the government should forge a deal with power generators to replace the phase-out agreement of 2000, which was negotiated by a coalition of Social Democrats and Greens. This new contract would suspend the phase-out while forcing generators to channel some of their extra profits into lower electricity prices and funding for res-earch into renewable energy.

During Germany’s presidency of the G8, Ms Merkel fought for the world’s biggest polluters to set themselves binding CO2 emissions targets and although she did not achieve this goal, she persuaded the US to work towards a successor to the Kyoto protocol when it expires in 2012.

Yet her domestic situation prevented her from joining the chorus of world leaders who see nuclear power as a cheap and safe way to reduce drastically CO2 emissions until renewable energy is technologically ready for large-scale deployment.

The coalition agreement she signed with her Social Democratic partners in 2005 includes a pledge not to renegotiate the nuclear phase-out during the lifetime of the government.

Ms Merkel’s advisers and Bernd Pfaffenbach, her G8 sherpa and fellow CDU member, think departing from this line at next week’s summit could cause the SPD to leave the coalition.

Germany alone cannot prevent the climate section of the final communiqué from mentioning growing international support for nuclear energy, but it can block suggestions there is a G8 consensus on the issue.

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