Mood for nuclear power in Germany improving - E.ON

Thursday, July 10, 2008

BERLIN, July 10 (Reuters) - E.ON Chief Executive Wulf Bernotat said on Thursday he had sensed a shift in the mood for nuclear power in Germany but did not expect an imminent deal to repeal a law to shut the country's nuclear plants by 2021.

Bernotat told journalists in Berlin he believed it would be possible at some point to revoke the law as public opposition to nuclear power wanes.

He also said E.ON, Europe's largest utility, does not want to build new nuclear plants and is only interested in extending the life of those on line.

"Nuclear energy is celebrating a remarkable renaissance at the moment in Europe, Asia and in the United States," Bernotat said. "Even in Germany there has been a gradual, albeit very gradual, warming towards nuclear power."

Rising fuel prices and concerns about climate change have led the search for cleaner alternatives, including nuclear power, to the more polluting traditional sources of energy.

Germany gets just under a third of its energy from its 17 remaining nuclear power plants. The grand coalition government remains committed to shutting down those by 2021. The law was put in place in 2000 by the previous SPD-Greens government.

The SPD and Greens called the nuclear exit a historic step and hoped other industrial nations would follow. Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats wanted to scrap the law in 2005 when they took power but the SPD, their coalition partner, is opposed to any change.

Bernotat said he is optimistic the stalemate can be broken.

"The energy industry is realistic enough to realise it won't be able to expect a straight-forward agreement to do away with the nuclear exit plan," he said.

"The atmosphere has improved considerably. There has been an acknowledgement that Germany isn't the only country in the world," he said, referring to the climate change discussion and nuclear power's advantages over fossil fuels.

"It will be possible to get a deal to revoke the exit plans," he said.

A recent Forsa poll showed Germans were evenly divided on whether nuclear plants should be allowed to operate for longer than planned. Some 46 percent said they favoured extending the lives of the reactors, the same number as those who want all plants to close as planned.

Last year, a similar survey showed 58 percent of Germans thought it was right to phase out the nuclear reactors.

The 1986 Chernobyl disaster, the world's biggest nuclear accident, turned Germans against atomic energy and the Green lobby capitalised on their fears about safety and the environment to strengthen their influence.

Bernotat said it was difficult explain German opposition to nuclear energy, especially because many are concerned about climate change and cutting carbon dioxide emissions.

"Germans are full of fears, plagued by worries," he said. "Lowering the speed limit on motorways would save a few million tonnes of CO2 each year. Extending nuclear power could save 150 million tonnes. You have to ask yourself where's the balance?"

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