German energy giant RWE has suggested one of its nuclear plants should stay online beyond its scheduled shutdown in 2008. Is Germany getting ready to play with nuclear fire again?
The nuclear power plant in Biblis should be closed down in 2008
Germany's largest energy producer, RWE, is considering submitting an application to the German government for permission to extend the life of its Biblis A nuclear power plant, which was scheduled to be shut down in 2008.
CEO Harry Roels said on Thursday RWE would apply for an extension in the second quarter of this year. The company is hoping to use the relatively old reactor from the Biblis A power plant in the German state of Hesse to make up for power shortages in its other plants.
The move is considered highly controversial in view of the nuclear phase-out policy which was adopted by the previous German government. The coalition of Socialist Democrats (SPD) and the Green party under former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder reached a ground-breaking agreement that all of nuclear power plants in Germany would be shut down by 2020.
Reopening the nuclear debate
Roels stressed that nuclear energy cannot be ignored, especially in regard to the ongoing debate in Germany about securing reliable energy sources for the future.
Hesse's Koch is a supporter of nuclear energy
"It is time to think about the topic again -- openly and candidly," said Roels.
Hesse's Prime Minister Roland Koch, who is a member of the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU), said he supported the move because it was in the best interest of the state to keep the plant working as long as possible.
Over the next 15 years, between 40,000 and 50,000 megawatts of energy that used to come from German nuclear power plants will have to be replaced with alternative energy sources.
Ursula Hammann, a representative of the Green party in the Hesse parliament, said that extending the life of the Biblis power plant would be irresponsible and described Koch as the "chief ideologist" of nuclear economy."
A dangerous experiment
Environmental experts are concerned about nuclear waste
According to Greenpeace expert Thomas Breuer, who criticized the initiative, the Biblis plant produces 50 tons of atomic waste per year and has no emergency bunker system in place.
The Hesse Social Democrats also said it would be nonsensical to extend the life of the power plant which is the "least safe, oldest, most accident-prone and least secured against plane crashes."
By rekindling the nuclear debate in Hesse, Roland Koch is joining his party colleague and German Economics Minister Michael Glos who recently ruffled some feathers by suggesting that the German nuclear phase-out program should be given a second thought.
"We need a broad and balanced energy mix of oil, natural gas, coal, nuclear energy and renewable energies," Glos said. "We also need to think about the role of nuclear energy. Thinking should not be prohibited."
A change of policy?
Although German Chancellor Angela Merkel is committed to phasing out the remaining nuclear power plants in Germany, the pro-nuclear faction in her party is dovetailing with a reviving interest in nuclear energy.
Several European countries have been considering its merits. Finland started work on a new nuclear plant, the first to be built on the continent in a decade, and France's parliament also recently gave its approval for a new nuclear plant.