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Gas Dispute Reignites Atomic Energy Debate

DW staff (ncy)January 2, 2006

Economics Minister Michael Glos suggested Germany could backtrack on its decision to stop using nuclear power as natural gas companies reported disruptions in supplies from Russia due to the Moscow-Kiev gas dispute.

Germany's nuclear power plants are set to be shut by 2020Image: dpa

Germany should rethink what can be done to make the country less dependent on foreign energy sources, Glos said in an interview with WDR radio. He said that nuclear power and coal could be alternatives. Germany's nuclear power plants were "sentenced to be shut down for political reasons" by the previous Social Democratic-Green party governing coalition, he added.

But Glos stressed he didn't want to incite an argument among the governing coalition. The Christian Democrats and their Bavarian sister party, to which Glos belongs, were at odds with the Social Democrats over the issue during their talks to form a coalition in November. Glos' side had recommended allowing nuclear power plants to run beyond the 2020 deadline by which they are all supposed to be shut down.

Political repercussions

Wirtschaftsminister Michael Glos
Glos has repeatedly spoken out in favor of nuclear powerImage: AP

In the ongoing dispute over natural gas prices between Russia and Ukraine, Glos said he foresaw no immediate fallout for German consumers, but warned Moscow that the crisis could have political repercussions. He said that since Russia held the presidency of the G8 "it should behave in a responsible manner." Russia, which supplies 36 percent of Germany's gas needs, should also bear in mind that the dispute will affect its reputation as a stable supplier, he said.

"Russian gas has a very good reputation in Germany, above all a reputation for being reliable, but one should never forget, from the Russian side, what harm one does oneself if one shares responsibility for a dispute," Glos said.

He assured German households that they need not fear a mid-winter gas shortage.

"The 17 million German households (which use gas heating) for the moment have no cause for concern," he said. "They will not be affected by what has happened so far. Thank God, we have sufficient reserves and we have contracts with many other gas-supplying countries."

Russian state-controlled Gazprom announced that it was cutting off supplies to Ukraine on Sunday because Kiev had failed to accept a steep increase in gas prices for 2006. On Monday, the dispute deepened as Gazprom accused Ukraine of stealing Russian gas from a pipeline transiting its territory that supplies the Ukrainian network and western Europe.

Gazprom to restore supplies

Gazprom would restore full natural gas supplies to European customers on Tuesday, Russian news agencies quoted the company's deputy chairman as saying on Monday after several European countries reported shortages.

"We have taken all necessary measures to supply Europe with gas according to contracts. By tomorrow evening, full supply to Europe in accordance with these contracts will be restored," Alexander Medvedev, who is also Gazprom's export chief, said at a news conference.

German gas companies reported disruptions to their supplies.

"We are clearly receiving less than foreseen in our contract but we cannot yet specify how much," an E.ON Ruhrgas spokeswoman said, as Wingas also reported irregularity in its supply from Russia.

Fine for now

The spokeswoman said E.ON Ruhrgas had been able to compensate for the reduction in supply "without a problem" but that if the disruption continued, the company would increase its imports from other countries. The company is Germany's largest gas importer with a 60 percent share of the market and holds a 6.5 percent stake in Russian energy giant Gazprom.

Erdgas Ukraine
Europe's gas supply has been disruptedImage: dpa

A spokesman for Wingas, a 50-50 joint venture between Gazprom and German group Wintershall, said the company was also unable to quantify the dip in its Russian gas supply. The company said in a statement that it saw no risk of a supply crunch for its customers.

Germany imports 84 percent of its gas and Russia is its chief supplier. But it also has flexible gas contracts with several other countries, including Norway and the Netherlands, and sufficient gas reserves to last 75 days.

E.ON Ruhrgas had said on Sunday that it foresaw no immediate danger of German households being affected, but warned that if "the restrictions were to go beyond a certain level, and the winter turns out to be particularly severe, our ability to compensate for the disruptions could reach its limits."

No plan to mediate

Meanwhile, deputy government spokesman Thomas Steg said Germany had urged Russia and Ukraine to resolve the dispute as soon as possible, and without disrupting Europe's gas supply.

European consumers needn't yet worryImage: AP

"Both sides have commitments and... we expect both Russia and Ukraine to fulfill their obligations in terms of delivering and transporting gas in full," he told a press briefing.

Steg said while the German government had been in touch with both Moscow and Kiev, it did not foresee "playing the role of negotiator." He added that German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier had spoken to EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and was planning to talk to his Austrian counterpart Ursula Plassnik in a bid to find a common European position on the gas dispute.