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Germany

German Conservatives Urge Nuke Energy Rethink

Germany's conservative Christian Social Union party defends nuclear energy in the face of high oil and coal prices and demands that the government abandon its plan to close all German nuclear power plants.

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Back in the energy debate?

As delegates from 154 nations at the International Conference on Renewable Energy in Bonn promoted renewable energy souces like solar and wind power to counter rising oil prices, Bavarian Premier and leader of the opposition conservative Christian Social Union (CSU), Edmund Stoiber, dished up his own suggestion, topped with an extra serving of controversy.

Stoiber proposed Thursday that rising uncertainty about oil production and soaring prices should be offset by nuclear power.

CSU Parteivorsitzender Edmund Stoiber

Bavarian premier and CSU leader, Edmund Stoiber

In a strategy paper on energy policy, the contents of which were made public Thursday, Stoiber (photo) urged a fundamental review of a hard-won nuclear energy phase-out accord sealed between Schröder's center-left government and German energy providers three years ago.

Stoiber demanded an extension of the life-span of currently functioning reactors, a modernization of reactors if needed and if necessary, construction of new nuclear reactors.

Non-nuclear strategy no longer viable

Markus Söder, general secretary of the CSU said on Thursday in a German radio interview that there had to be a continuing emphasis on nuclear energy in the face of an increasingly uncertain future for energy production based on oil from the Middle East.

"For us it is clear that we will promote an exit from this policy of non-nuclear power generation. A non-nuclear strategy is neither ecologically nor economically sound in our opinion,“ Söder said.

Though Söder has toned down the demand to build new nuclear reactors, he has admitted that the issue of boosting nuclear energy will be back on the political agenda if the conservatives win the 2006 general elections. He has also not ruled out that if the conservatives were to come to power, they would see to it that nuclear plants would continue operating for longer than the planned 25-year deadline laid down in the nuclear phase-out treaty.

Bavarian Economics Minister Otto Wieshau said that Bavaria would advocate extending the life-spans of "existing, safe nuclear reactors."

Fritz Vahrenholt, long-time energy expert of Schröder's ruling party and chief executive of wind turbine maker Repower AG, said on Thursday Germany had to do everything to become less dependent on oil. Slowing down the phase out of nuclear power plants was a definite option, he told German radio.

Proposal too dangerous and illegal

Windrad, Windenergie, Energie

A wind mill in Brandenburg, Germany

The proposal of rethinking the future of nuclear energy has riled Schröder's ruling coalition of Social Democrats and Greens, who have made phasing out nuclear power and boosting support for renewable energies like solar and wind power the cornerstones of their energy policy.

In particular the Greens, the initiators of the nuclear phase-out agreement, are up in arms. The agreement foresees a closing down of Germany's 17 nuclear reactors over a period of 25 years and the amount of renewable energy resources is to be increased to 20 percent of total production.

The Greens' energy spokesman, Rainer Loske, said the risks of nuclear power production are no longer permissible in a densely-populated country like Germany.

"We don’t think that nuclear energy can be justified in the long run. It’s too dangerous and there are too many open questions involved in this technology," Loske said. "So we will stick to this policy and it will not necessarily lead to increasing electricity prices because it is a phase-out step by step.“

Schröder's Social Democrats have also pointed to the security risks of nuclear reactors as well as the limited availability of uranium needed to produce electricity.

German Environment Minister Jürgen Trittin has warned the Bavarian state government against building a new nuclear power plant, saying such a move would be "illegal."

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