German Nuclear Exit Should Be Reversed, Ministry Taskforce Says

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Aug. 5 (Bloomberg) -- The German government should abandon its planned phase-out of nuclear energy to help rein in surging electricity prices and protect the environment, according to proposals drawn up by an energy taskforce under Economy Minister Michael Glos.

The plan, in the form of a three-page draft of ''key points'' toward a nuclear-energy law, urges the government to extend the running of nuclear reactors to at least 40 years from a maximum 32 years at present, Berlin-based ministry spokeswoman Charlotte Lauer said today by phone. It is a recommendation only and hasn't been endorsed by Glos, Lauer said.

''A change of course from the phase-out of nuclear energy is ecologically and economically sensible and necessary,'' the draft says, according to a copy e-mailed by the ministry.

The draft fans a growing dispute over nuclear power in Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition of Christian Democrats and Social Democrats 13 months before the next national election. While the coalition is committed to closing Germany's nuclear plants by about 2021, Merkel has recently spoken out in favor of retaining nuclear power. Glos is a member of the Bavarian sister party to Merkel's CDU.

Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel, a Social Democrat, decried the working group and said the ruling parties had agreed to stick with the phase-out in their 2005 coalition agreement.

''If the Economy Ministry is tinkering with non-exit ideas, it's not merely a clear violation of the coalition agreement, it shows more than anything else that nuclear lobbying is being conducted under Glos's roof,'' Gabriel said in a statement.

Cost to Consumers
According to the taskforce draft, ending nuclear energy production would mean a doubling of the proportion of electricity produced from gas to 23 percent in 2020. That would saddle consumers with ''an additional several billions of euros'' in price increases, while also hampering carbon- reduction targets, the draft says.

Aside from extending reactors' operation, a nuclear law should guarantee security at nuclear plants, according to the group's draft recommendations. A moratorium on nuclear waste stored in salt deposits at Gorleben in northwest Germany should be lifted, while surplus profit from the extension should be invested in a fund to boost energy technology and efficiency, it said.

The nuclear-exit policy was forged in 2000 by the Social Democrat-Green Party government of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, a commitment Merkel's coalition renewed in its partnership agreement after the 2005 election.

''It's wrong to shut down nuclear plants that are among the safest in the world,'' Merkel said in a speech to her party in June. ''Whenever it's possible, and I'm still hoping that some may realize this, this policy must be corrected.''

Merkel, a former environment minister, told Bild am Sonntag newspaper in an interview published July 13 that Germany will have to review the nuclear phase-out ''at the latest'' after the next election, which will probably be held on Sept. 27, 2009.

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