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Germany

Germany passes law on extending the lifespans of nuclear power plants

A bill that would see the lifespans of Germany's 17 nuclear power plants extended by 12 years was approved by the upper house of parliament on Friday despite strong opposition.

A nuclear sign on a rusty metal container

Nuclear power stations are to be switched off 12 years later than planned

Plans to extend the lifespan of Germany's nuclear power stations took the last legislative hurdle when a bill was passed in Germany's Bundesrat, the upper house of parliament on Friday, but opposition parties have vowed to appeal the decision.

Although surveys show that a majority of Germans are opposed to atomic power because of concerns over safety, Chancellor Angela Merkel's center-right coalition government decided to extend the operating lives of the 17 German plants by an average of 12 years. The move overturns a law passed by a previous government of Social Democrats and Greens that would have seen the last plant shut down in 2022.

Germany has seen numerous anti-nuclear demonstrations in recent months, often supported by opposition politicians. Earlier this month, thousands protested against the latest transport of nuclear waste to a storage facility in the northern town of Gorleben.

A protest camp

Nuclear energy has never been popular with Germans

Contentious bill

The opposition Social Democrats said on Friday that they would appeal the decision at Germany's highest court. They argue that the government's reasoning that the upper house does not have to give its approval for the bill, is unlawful.

The Bundesrat, in which Chancellor Merkel's coalition does not have a majority, was thus forced to either approve the law or call in the mediators, a move which was rejected.

Opponents of nuclear power have also started a petition on the Internet called "Don't do it Wulff," in an attempt to get German President Christian Wulff to veto the bill. In the past 61 years, German presidents have only used their veto eight times.

Long negotiations

The federal government plans to impose a tax on nuclear fuel rods on the four big energy companies to recover some of the extra profits those companies stand to make due to the lifespan extension.

But the state governments are worried that the companies would treat the tax as part of corporation taxes they have to pay to the local councils, thus costing them revenue. A last-minute compromise was found on Thursday night after the federal government agreed to review the situation next June.

Author: Nicole Goebel (dpa, AFP, AP)
Editor: Chuck Penfold

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