Glos renews call for extending lives of Germany's reactors

09 September 2008

Germany's minister of economics and technology, Michael Glos, speaking at the 3rd German Energy Congress in Munich, has made a renewed call for the operating lives of the country's nuclear power plants to be extended.

Michael Glos 
German economics minister, Michael Glos (Image: BMWi)
He highlighted the importance of having an energy policy that will help meet future energy needs and cut greenhouse gas emissions, without having an adverse effect on the economy. Glos said: "Energy is the key issue of the future, and for three reasons. Firstly, prices are rising. The driver is reminded of this at the pump. And the consumer feels it when he sees his electricity bill. Secondly, we all see global warming as a major threat. If we do not act decisively, it threatens great harm to the environment and the economy. Thirdly, Germany should not assume the lights will remain on. We need a secure energy supply and must not depend on individual sources and supplier countries."

Glos commented: "Everybody wants renewable energy to be greatly expanded - to at least 30% of electricity production in the next 12 years, according to the target of the new EEG 2009. But even if we succeed, there still remains 70% of our energy mix by 2020. We must talk about this 70%, not only about the 30%. Great strides in energy efficiency and conservation - especially in electricity - will be needed in the coming years to meet future energy demand. Consequently, until further notice, there is no way out of coal and a lifetime extension of nuclear energy."

"We can only ensure affordable prices and a reliable energy supply in Germany with: new conventional coal-fired power plants; extended operating lives of nuclear power plants; a reasonable expansion of renewable energy; and, a significant increase in energy efficiency," he suggested.

He called for an open debate about nuclear energy, saying, "We must not hide the politically controversial issue of nuclear energy. Even I know the risks of this energy source. But even here I would call for a clear, realistic view. When nuclear energy was decided on, the price of oil was at $28 per barrel. Now it is $110."

According to Glos, "Longer lives for existing nuclear power plants mean a long-term, lower-priced, safe and climate-friendly power generation." He noted, "It would be simple and inexpensive to extend the lives of nuclear power plants."

He gave a list of arguments in favour of nuclear energy before stressing, "I am talking about longer lives of existing power plants, not about new plants. I count on nuclear energy technology as a bridge to other technologies cheap enough. Whoever makes an ideological argument is closing their eyes to the challenge facing us in energy supply."

He called for an effective emission trading system to be devised in Europe that would not force energy-intensive industries out of the region, leading to "chimneys smoking elsewhere, while we lose jobs." Glos suggested that Germany should even consider constructing more coal-powered plants. He said, "The mechanism shall be such that the construction of new power plants is at least not impeded. I am thinking particularly of coal power plants. Allowing us to build new gas-fired power plants instead will make us even more dependent on imports, including from Russia.

The German government aims is to promote research and development of advanced energy technologies. Glos said that the economics ministry has budgeted €462 million ($650 million) between 2009 and 2012 for funding such research.

Nuclear power plants generate about one third of Germany's electricity, but a coalition government formed after the 1998 federal election made the policy of phasing out nuclear energy under Green environment minister Jurgen Trittin. Currently, under a 2000 compromise, the operational lives of German power reactors are limited to an average of 32 years, although operators can apply to transfer generation time from lesser to more efficient plants. Two reactors have already been shut down early, and although some generation time has been passed from older to newer plants for economic reasons, the agreement would eventually see all reactors shut down by 2015. Many similar power reactors in other countries are licensed to safely operate for up to 60 years. Now, the new coalition government formed in 2005 led by Angela Merkel is less certain of the inherited phase-out policy and the debate on the topic is beginning to heat up ahead of a general election next year.