Germany maps out path to post-nuclear future

Germany laid out plans on Monday on how it intended to abandon nuclear power in the coming decade, while still keeping its economy competitive and achieving its climate goals.

“Germany is one of the world’s most efficient and economically successful countries. This depends on a competitive energy supply for our companies, and this will remain the case,” the government said.

“Our country is a pioneer on the road to the power generation of the future. We can become the first industrialised nation to achieve the transformation to a highly efficient system of renewable energy.”

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Cabinet on Monday signed off on a package of bills, prompted by Japan’s Fukushima disaster, that foresee Europe’s biggest economy being nuclear-free by 2022, and at a faster pace than envisaged.

Germany’s nine reactors currently online are due to be turned off between 2015 and 2022. Only last week the government had said that six would shut down in 2021 and the three most modern in 2022.

Fukushima fall-out
The seven oldest reactors were already switched off after Japan’s massive March 11 earthquake and tsunami knocked out cooling systems at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, causing reactors to overheat and radiation to leak.

Another German reactor has been shut for years because of technical problems.

Germany is the first major industrialised power to agree an end to atomic power in the wake of the disaster, the world’s worst since Chernobyl in 1986, with tens of thousands of people living near Fukushima evacuated.

The measures approved by Merkel’s Cabinet focus on ways to fill the gap left by nuclear power, on which Germany relies for about 22% of its energy needs.

This includes building new coal and gas power plants, although Berlin is sticking to its target of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2020 from 1990 levels and by 80% to 95% by 2050, the government said.

Renewable energy drive
The government also wants to invest heavily in solar and wind energy, increasing the proportion of the country’s power needs generated with renewable energies to 35% by 2020 from 17% at present.

It also wants to expand massively the infrastructure needed to transport energy to homes and businesses around the country, notably the electricity generated in wind farms on Germany’s northern coasts.

By 2020, Germany’s electricity usage also will be cut by 10%, and three billion euros in funds will be made available every year for energy efficiency, research and development and energy storage.

“Germany faces a fundamental restructuring of how its power is produced. This is one of the tasks for the coming decades,” the government said.

“It can only succeed if there is as wide as possible agreement within society for this change and for the challenges that this poses to all of us.”

Delayed reactor
The nuclear exit represents a humbling U-turn for Merkel, whose government in late 2010 fulfilled a campaign promise to extend the lifetime of Germany’s 17 reactors by an average of 12 years, keeping them open until the mid-2030s.

That in turn was a reversal of a decision her predecessor Gerhard Schroeder took for Germany to abandon atomic energy by around 2020, and was hugely unpopular with voters, polls showed.

Since Fukushima hundreds of thousands of Germans have taken part in anti-nuclear demonstrations around the country, and Merkel’s perceived pro-nuclear stance contributed to a string of poor results in state elections this year.

Merkel’s U-turn has angered German energy companies, however, with EON announcing on May 31 that it was suing the government and RWE considering following suit. — AFP

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Simon Sturdee
Simon Sturdee
South Asia news editor for AFP news agency based in Delhi.

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