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Nuclear shutdown

May 30, 2011

As public opposition to nuclear power remains high, the German government has announced new plans to phase it out completely in the next 11 years. And the proposal may have a chance at support from the center-left.

Nuclear protesters
Public pressure to get rid of nuclear power has risenImage: dapd

The German government on Monday announced plans to completely phase out nuclear energy by 2022, a 14-year acceleration of its previous plans.

Environment Minister Norbert Röttgen announced the proposal in the early hours of Monday, after a 12-hour marathon meeting between Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) and the junior coalition partners, the Free Democrats (FDP).

"It's definite: the latest end of the last three nuclear power plants is 2022," Röttgen told reporters. "There will be no clause for revision."

Angela Merkel and Norbert Röttgen
Röttgen (right) said the proposed legislation would have 'no clause for revision'Image: dapd

Last October, the German parliament voted in favor of a much slower nuclear shutdown, lasting until 2036. The government said that it was necessary to ensure the supply of Germany's energy needs.

After the nuclear disaster at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan, public opposition to nuclear energy sharply increased. In March, Merkel announced a temporary shutdown of seven older nuclear plants.

The new timeline would keep those seven plants offline permanently. Six more would be shut down in 2021, and three would stay on until 2022 to ensure no disruption to power supply.

Ethics commission findings

The government's announcement came just before an ethics commission on nuclear energy presented its findings in Berlin on Monday.

The commission's chair, former environment minister and CDU politician Klaus Töpfer, said he found "not recommendable" a specific provision to keep one of the older plants on stand-by as a "cold reserve" until 2013 to help protect against blackouts.

He also said the shutdown could feasibly happen sooner, but that if the government's plans are successful, along with further development of renewable energies, then "they could be a big opportunity for the future capabilities of the German economy."

Nuclear power plant
The last of Germany's nuclear power plants would be turned off in 2022Image: dapd

Opposition withholds support

The opposition Social Democrats and Greens remained skeptical of the plans, while not explicitly condemning or embracing them.

Green party chief Claudia Roth told the morning television show Morgenmagazin that there were "still many questions that are very, very open." She also said the government had not yet resolved the issue of a permanent storage facility for nuclear waste.

SPD leader Sigmar Gabriel specifically criticized the plans to keep an older reactor on stand-by, saying the idea had "little to do with technical feasibility."

Merkel's plans are similar to legislation passed in 2001 by the center-left government of Gerhard Schröder, which would have turned off the last nuclear power plant by 2022.

Public pressure remains high

Doll with burnt head and sign reading "Stop killing the future"
Protests against nuclear power have increased since the Fukushima disasterImage: dapd

In a statement released on Monday, environmental group Greenpeace called for a nuclear shutdown by 2015 and said Merkel's plans would expose "millions of people's lives to another 11 years of unnecessary danger."

Greenpeace activists on Sunday unfurled a banner atop Berlin's Brandenburg Gate reading, "Every day of nuclear power is one too many." More than 100,000 people also held demonstrations across Germany on Saturday, calling for a quick end to nuclear energy.

Shares of the nuclear power companies E.On and RWE fell 2.2 and 2.4 percent respectively at the opening of trading on Monday.

Author: Andrew Bowen
Editor: Nicole Goebel