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Cheating the meter

October 13, 2009

A nuclear power station has been accused of slowing its energy production to extend its lifespan until the nuclear-friendly Christian Democrat-Free Democrat coalition came to power, it was revealed Tuesday.

Nuclear power station
Nuclear power station Neckarwestheim 1 was due to be closed this summerImage: dpa

The energy company Energie Baden-Wuerttemberg (EnBW) immediately denied accusations that it deliberately reduced the power supply at its Neckarwestheim 1 nuclear power station in the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg in order to extend its lifespan.

Engineers repair power-lines
EnBW is accused of strangling production to extend the plant's lifespanImage: AP

According to media reports, environmental organization Greenpeace and the online edition of news magazine Der Spiegel obtained internal company documents which showed that political considerations had played a part in the decision to cut production over an 18-month period.

Germany's nuclear power laws stipulate that the lifespan of a nuclear power station be measured by the amount of energy it produces. After reaching a certain amount, the power station must be shut down.

Germany's second oldest reactor

The Neckarwestheim 1 nuclear power station, which contains the second oldest reactor in Germany, would have been shut down in mid-July 2009 under normal production conditions. But by artificially extending its lifespan, EnBW apparently deliberately gave Neckarwestheim 1 the chance of reconsideration under a new, more nuclear-friendly coalition government of Christian Democrats (CDU) and the Free Democratic Party (FDP).

Chancellor Angela Merkel's CDU and minority coalition partner FDP, currently in the middle of coalition negotiations, have both said they would like to extend the operation of Germany's 17 nuclear power plants. The current law requires the phasing out of nuclear energy by 2020.

Angela Merkel and Guido Westerwelle
EnBW may have been stalling to wait for the new governmentImage: AP

According to Der Spiegel, one of the leaked EnBW papers states that the "public and political acceptance of extended operation" is continually improving, while a graphic showing the decision to cut power production specifically earmarks September's election. "Appropriate statements have been made both by the CDU/CSU and the FDP," the document states.

Greenpeace also claims that one of the documents names certain CDU and FDP politicians to be apprised of the plans, which were to be kept out of the media. The group has demanded that these politicians make statements on the issue.

"Strategical considerations connected to the election do not play any role in economically-optimized operation plans," EnBW countered in a statement.

EnBW also accused Greenpeace and Der Spiegel of attributing artificial significance to routine procedures.

Editor: Nancy Isenson