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A nuclear power plant in Germany
Germany's 17 nuclear reactors account for over 20 percent of power generationImage: picture-alliance/ dpa

No nuclear reprieve?

May 13, 2010

Chancellor Merkel's center-right government may have to rethink plans to extend the lifecycle of Germany's nuclear plants after a defeat in a key regional election.


Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition government of Christian Democrats (CDU) and the Free Democratic Party (FDP) may be forced to reassess plans to run Germany's nuclear power plants well past their scheduled shutdown dates.

A defeat in a regional election in the state of North-Rhine Westphalia last Sunday robbed Merkel of a majority in the upper house of Germany's parliament. That limits the chancellor's ability to extend the lifespan of nuclear-power plants.

Merkel has said she favored extended use of the plants to meet energy demands in the European Union's largest power user.

Proponents say longer use of nuclear power would also cut greenhouse gases blamed for global warming.

Germany's 17 nuclear reactors accounted for an estimated 23 percent of the country’s power generation last year, while coal and natural gas made up a combined 55 percent.

Merkel's center-right coalition had intended to revoke a law passed under former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's center-left coalition that foresaw shutting down all nuclear power plants in Germany by around 2020.

Using leeway

Angela Merkel and Juergen Ruettgers
Bitter defeat - Merkel with conservative Premier Juergen Ruettgers who lost the electionImage: AP

Legal experts are now debating whether Merkel's plans can still be pushed through without the approval of parliament's upper chamber, the Bundesrat. But the state premier of Hesse Roland Koch has called on the government to implement the plans without Bundesrat approval.

"We don't have to give up plans to extend the operating lives of nuclear reactors," Koch told the daily Hamburger Abendblatt newspaper on Wednesday. He said that the nuclear phase-out law had, after all, come into force under Schroeder's government without upper house approval.

Schroder's coalition had at the time argued that the legislation unburdened the states and therefore did not require approval.

"The federal government would be well advised to use its room to maneuver," Koch said.

Higher costs justify approval

But legal experts in parliament have concluded that the Bundesrat must be asked to vote on the legislation.

"An amendment is needed to extend the life-span or rather reintroduce the long-lasting use of nuclear energy, which requires approval by the Bundesrat," according to a a report by the parliament's research services quoted by German news agencies.

If the plants continued operating, Germany's states would have to carry the cost. The 16 federal states are responsible for monitoring the facilities. That justified the need for consent, the experts said.

Editor: Sonia Phalnikar

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