A balance of nuclear power for Germany

22 June 2009

Germany's economy minister has said that nuclear power plants should operate for longer until favoured renewable technologies are ready to deliver.


Neckarwestheim (EnBW)
The second unit at Neckarwestheim
could be Germany's last operating
reactor in 2022, but can the country
find a viable alternative?
Comments by Karl-Theodor von und zu Guttenberg came during an interview with the daily newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung in which he was quizzed on possible coalitions for government. A federal election is set for Europe's most populous country on 27 September - and nuclear power is sure to be a campaign issue.


Guttenberg said that until the economics of alternative technologies improves, 'we need a limited extension' of Germany's 17 reactors, which provide 25% of power but are life-limited for political reasons only. Under current plans all would be shut down by 2022, meant to be replaced by wind and solar.


However, the phase-out should still go ahead even if delayed by a few years, Guttenberg said. He has nothing against the phase-out 'if economically viable alternatives establish themselves quickly enough.'


Guttenberg represents the Christian Social Union (CSU), currently sharing power with its sister party, Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) as well as the Social Democratic Party (SDP). Merkel herself has spoken out on the nuclear phase-out several times, describing it as 'absolutely wrong' but explaining that policy change is impossible under coalition arrangements with the SDP. The country's stance has left it isolated at the G8 meetings, where all other nations call for nuclear energy as an essential measure in the global push for low-carbon energy. Among the G20, only Germany and Australia oppose nuclear energy.


While there are hopes that an election campaign and new coalition could allow a freer energy policy, the SDP and the Greens - which polls predict to take about 25% and 13% of the vote each - remain firmly against any change to the phase-out. Indeed, it was the SPD under Gerhard Schroeder and the Greens that brought in the 'nuclear exit law' in 1998.