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Germany

Ending nuclear power could impact social equality, commissioner says

The commission tasked with reviewing the future of nuclear energy in Germany has begun its work. The commission's chairman has expressed concern that phasing out nuclear power could cause social inequalities.

nuclear plant in germany

The commission will issue a final report in May

Berlin's review of its policy toward nuclear energy should avoid causing an increase in electricity prices that could sharpen social inequities, said Klaus Töpfer, Germany's former environment minister, on Monday.

Töpfer chairs the ethics commission tasked with making recommendations about the future of nuclear energy in Germany, one of the world's largest economies.

The 17-member commission, which began its work in Berlin on Monday, was set up by Chancellor Angela Merkel in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear crisis in Japan. It brings together representatives from politics, science and religion.

"It's not enough to simply say we're turning off the switch," Töpfer said. "We have to solve this in a way that doesn't tolerate social dislocations."

"We have to realize that energy prices are a major burden to many people's incomes," he continued.

Earlier, the Association of Energy and Water Industries had claimed that Germany, traditionally a net electricity exporter, had become a net electricity importer as a result of a government-ordered nuclear moratorium which took effect nearly a month ago.

This claim, however, was contradicted by the Environment Ministry.

Future of nuclear power

Klaus Töpfer

Töpfer cautioned that nuclear power cannot be immediately shut down

Chancellor Merkel ordered the three-month moratorium on Germany's seven oldest nuclear reactors in the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear crisis.

During the moratorium, the ethics commission will hold consultations on the feasibility of phasing out nuclear energy as soon as possible. The commission will then issue a final report in May after receiving the results of a safety review of Germany's 17 nuclear reactors.

"We have to look into how best to reorganize our energy policies with the shortest possible lifespans for our nuclear power plants," Merkel said. "The commission is to provide answers as to how renewables can sustainably replace nuclear energy in the long run."

Opposition skeptical

Last fall, Merkel's government pushed through a law extending the life of Germany's nuclear plants beyond the 2020 deadline set by the previous left-of-center government headed by former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder.

But Merkel's center-right coalition government made an aboutface on nuclear policy after last month's earthquake and tsunami in Japan caused radiation leaks at several of the country's nuclear reactors.

Merkel's coalition, which suffered a string of bruising electoral defeats attributed to its nuclear reversal, is now seeking to build a new national energy consensus.

However, Andrea Nahles, general secretary of the opposition Social Democrats, has said her party will only support Merkel's efforts if they return to the 2020 deadline and the moratorium on the seven reactors becomes permanent.

Author: Spencer Kimball (dpa, AFP, Reuters)
Editor: Martin Kuebler

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