All eyes on energy companies, as nuclear moratorium ends | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 15.06.2011
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All eyes on energy companies, as nuclear moratorium ends

The moratorium on nuclear power announced by Chancellor Angela Merkel ended on Wednesday. Eight of the country's nuclear power plants were turned off in mid-March. Now it looks like the closure will be permanent.

A nuclear power plant, Biblis, in Germany

Eight power stations have been out of action since March

The moratorium of eight of Germany's seventeen nuclear power plants was lifted on Wednesday. German Chancellor Angela Merkel took the plants offline in mid-March over safety concerns following the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan. The switch-off was originally supposed to be temporary, but it now looks like the reactors will be permanently closed, after Merkel announced her government would phase out nuclear power altogether.

Under the government's energy U-turn, the power plants affected by the moratorium, mostly the older plants, will be first in line for the axe. But the final whistle for the reactors probably won't come until mid-July when the new law comes into force. That leaves a legal loophole.

Costly business

Theoretically, with the moratorium now over, energy companies could earn an extra 500,000 euros a day by switching the plants back on for a few weeks, but Green party leader Renate Künast told German television on Wednesday she thinks that would be unlikely.

Renate Künast, senior Green party member

Künast said she didn't think the plants would be turned on

"I believe the energy companies will think really hard about what signal they want to send to their customers," Künast said. "I think it would be a provocation if they turned on the power plants again."

Indeed on Wednesday, there were no indications that any of the energy companies were planning to reactivate the plants. Only one company, RWE, which operates the Biblis B, and Philippsburg I plants, said it would make a decision later in the week. Eon has already announced it will not switch its reactors back on.

Warnings of soaring energy costs

Jürgen Grossmann, CEO of RWE

Grossmann is worried about RWE's falling share price

RWE chief executive Jürgen Grossmann has been extremely critical of the nuclear phaseout. His company's share price dropped dramatically at the end of May after the government announcement.

Grossmann told the German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung that "politicians would do well to scrutinize the cost of the [nuclear] phaseout," citing the effect on electricity prices. He warned of a gradual deindustrialization of Germany if the plans went ahead.

But Rebecca Harms, who represents the Greens in the European Parliament said energy prices would rise anyway:

"I would never suggest that it's going to be easy," Harms said in an interview with Deutsche Welle. "But I find that this threat - that the provision isn't secure and that we can't afford it - is completely unfounded. Energy prices, electricity prices have been rising for years in Germany.... Energy won't come cheap."

A multiway plug

Electricity prices are likely to rise as a result of the nuclear phaseout

The nuclear phaseout certainly won't come cheap. Before the March moratorium, Germany was relying on nuclear power for 23 percent of its energy needs. Economy Minister Philipp Rösler has estimated the plans will raise power costs for consumers by roughly 35 to 40 euros per household. But that relatively modest price tag assumes the government will defray the cost of building extra offshore wind farms.

Some have even warned of blackouts as early as this coming winter. Germany's Federal Network Agency has determined that southern Germany, which stands to lose five reactors producing 5,200 megawatts, could run short of power in late 2011, as the cold weather bites.

The government's plan takes into account the blackout threat. Some of the older reactors will be kept in reserve, ready to be restarted at short notice if supplies run low.

Author: Joanna Impey (AFP, dpa)
Editor: Michael Lawton

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