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Energy policy generates debate at top German engineering fair

Nuclear power and the consequences of the Fukushima leak are central themes at a key industrial trade fair in Hanover. Possible effects on energy policy make this year’s theme, energy efficiency, all the more important.

A wind turbine

More use of renewables could push up power prices

Nuclear power was the hot topic at the opening of the Hanover trade fair, Germany's internationally renowned industrial fair, on Sunday, as the world debates the lessons of the Fukushima nuclear leak.

For the opening of the fair, the world's top showcase for engineering technology, Chancellor Angela Merkel was joined by French Prime Minister Francois Fillon.

Francois Fillon

Fillon says common standards on nuclear power were needed

And speaking at the opening, Fillon called for international consensus on nuclear safety that would guarantee a future for atomic power, with France a major player in the field. He said that the Fukushima leak posed many questions over nuclear power and that the European Union had to act.

"Our duty is to learn the lesson," Fillon, whose country is the world's top nuclear energy user, told the delegation adding that any plants found to be unsafe in France would be closed.

France is the partner nation at this year's fair, and Fillon was to tour the event on Monday and meet French exporters.

Merkel highlights need to inovate

Also speaking at the opening, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she was confident that German nuclear reactors were safe. However, she said, the type of innovations on display were required for progress beyond the nuclear age. "If we want to reach an era of renewable energy we must have the courage to rethink and try new things," she said.

Machinery suppliers believe that the future nature of electricity generation after the Japanese crisis was likely to be a major talking point during the week.

Wolfram von Fritsch

Fritsch is pleased that firms were returning to the fair after an absence

Wind turbine manufacturers and the makers of geothermal boring equipment will be hoping that demand rises.

And the issue affects other firms, even those that are not directly involved in nuclear power. The price of electricity is set to rise if nuclear power loses support. Renewable energy is more expensive to harness than that provided by nuclear fission - a sobering thought for many manufacturers.

Efficiency, efficiency, efficiency

It is fitting therefore that the central theme for all 13 subject categories within the fair is improving efficiency in industrial production. This also follows after the global downturn, explained fair spokesman Hartwig von Sass.

"After the crisis, companies are looking for possibilities to improve efficiency. That can only be done by making links between different fields of industry," said Sass.

Most important would be innovations that help optimize the way energy is used - renewable energy, energy efficiency, climate protection. These themes took something of a back seat during the global economic crisis.

The Biblis nuclear plant with clouds above

Fukushima has cast a cloud over the future of nuclear power globally

Now, and particularly in light of the Fukushima crisis in Japan, the issue is again a hot topic. At the fair, nuclear plant operators will certainly be making their case – just as providers of wind, solar and biofuels aim to take advantage of the new wave of concern about atomic energy.

General outlook favorable

More generally, if the Hanover trade fair is to be viewed as a reliable indicator, the signs for the world economy are good. After the number of firms with exhibitions at last year's fair went down, the chairman of the fair, Wolfram von Fritsch, is pleased to note that interest is returning.

"This year, 400 companies are coming back, of which about half are from outside Germany," said Fritsch. "It shows that there is optimism on an international level," he said.

New to the fair will be the exhibition area Metropolitan Solutions, which concerns itself with life in the great cities of the world and future challenges faced by their populations.

Authors: Insa Wrede, Richard Connor
Editor: Nicole Goebel

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