German nuclear shutdown sets global example: Merkel

Deborah Cole Yahoo News 31 May 11;

BERLIN (AFP) – Chancellor Angela Merkel said Germany could serve as a global trailblazer with its decision Monday to phase out nuclear power by 2022 but France, Europe's biggest producer, said it will not follow suit.

Merkel said the "fundamental" rethink of energy policy in the world's number four economy, prompted by the disaster in March at Japan's Fukushima plant, opened new opportunities for business and climate protection.

"We believe we as a country can be a trailblazer for a new age of renewable energy sources," she told reporters.

"We can be the first major industrialised country that achieves the transition to renewable energy with all the opportunities -- for exports, development, technology, jobs -- it carries with it."

Yet neighbour France, while saying it "respected" the German position, insisted it was not ready to give up nuclear energy which Prime Minister Francois Fillon described as a "solution for the future".

"We think that for some decades at least we will not be able to do without nuclear energy," added Foreign Minister Alain Juppe.

The German plan, hammered out by Merkel's ruling coalition in marathon overnight negotiations, will see the country shutter all 17 of its nuclear reactors, eight of which are currently off the electricity grid, within 11 years.

"We want the electricity of the future to be safer and at the same time reliable and affordable," Merkel told reporters as she accepted the findings of an expert commission on nuclear power she appointed in March.

"We learned from Fukushima that we have to deal differently with risks," added the chancellor, whose popularity suffered over her earlier pro-nuclear stance.

Seven of the eight reactors already offline are the country's oldest, which the government shut down for three months pending a safety probe after the Fukushima emergency.

The eighth is the Kruemmel plant, in north Germany, which has been offline for years because of technical problems.]

Six further reactors will shut down by 2021 and the three most modern will stop operating the following year 2022.

Monday's decision, which could run into legal challenges from energy companies, means Germany will have to find the 22 percent of its electricity needs that were covered by nuclear power from other sources.

A draft implementation plan to be debated next week would focus on hiking energy efficiency to reduce electricity use, building new power plants fired by greenhouse gas emitting natural gas and coal, expanding the production of wind energy, and improving the supply network from wind farms.

Thorny questions remained unanswered, including finding a permanent storage site for the highly radioactive waste and slashing CO2 emissions.

The decision represents a humbling U-turn for Merkel, who in late 2010 decided to extend the lifetime of the reactors by an average of 12 years. This would have kept them open until the mid-2030s.

That decision was unpopular even before the earthquake and tsunami that severely damaged the Fukushima facility, sparking mass anti-nuclear protests in Germany.

The Fukushima accident has ignited a renewed global debate about the safety of nuclear power, with opinions differing widely.

Nuclear opponents slammed the deal Monday and said they would stage fresh demonstrations next month to demand a faster phase-out.

France, meanwhile, said nuclear power allowed the country with its 58 reactors to provide electricity at prices about 40 percent cheaper than other European countries, on average.

"German households, for example, pay twice as much for their electricity," claimed France's Industry Minister Eric Besson.

Sweden said the German decision would lead to a disjointed energy policy that failed to adequately address climate change.

Poland and nuclear-free Austria, however, welcomed the German move.

"This decision by a highly industrialised country will have a very strong signal effect. It shows that scrapping nuclear power is both possible and feasible," said Austrian Environment Minister Nikolaus Berlakovich.

And Poland, considering launching its first nuclear power station in 2020, said it would rethink its plans.

The United States and Britain have announced plans to build new reactors as an alternative to producing harmful greenhouse gas emissions.

Italy scrapped nuclear power in 1987, one year after the Chernobyl disaster, while Switzerland said last week it would phase out atomic energy by 2034.

Despite German U-turn, nuclear here to stay in Europe
Christian Spillmann Yahoo News 30 May 11;

BRUSSELS (AFP) – Fears over nuclear safety after radiation leaks at a Japanese plant triggered by an earthquake and tsunami have pushed Germany and Switzerland to call time on atomic energy, but nuclear's days are far from over in Europe.

Including Germany, which will close the last of its 17 reactors in 2022, 14 of the 27 European Union states produce nuclear energy.

The biggest producers are France, with 58 reactors in operation and another two in the pipeline, and Britain, with 19 currently in use and another eight to come on-stream.

The others are: Sweden (with 10), Spain (8), Belgium (7), the Czech Republic (6), Finland (4), Hungary (4), Slovakia (4), Bulgaria (2), Romania (2), the Netherlands (1) and Slovenia (1).

Switzerland, whose government recommends phasing out by 2034, has five reactors, to which must be added 32 in Russia and 15 in Ukraine. Another is also being built in Belarus, which is causing great unease in EU neighbour Lithuania.

While Switzerland's stance was more surprising, having originally announced plans to replace its plants, Berlin's decision showed the way, Austrian environment minister Nikolaus Berlakovich said Monday.

"This decision by a highly industrialised country will have a very strong signal effect. It shows that scrapping nuclear power is both possible and feasible," he said.

"Germany's decision strengthens me in my conviction 'Move out of nuclear energy and into renewables'," he said.

The issue is hot also in Spain, where solar is the big renewable source, in Belgium, and in Scotland, a state-less energy fulcrum that is home to about a quarter of Britain's nuclear capacity, but whose new, separatist majority government does not want any new reactors built there.

Already negotiating control of existing oil and gas revenues off its shores, the Scottish government in Edinburgh instead wants to jumpstart wind, wave and tidal development around a tense referendum on independence set for 2014.

Everywhere, though, the question of electricity supply remains vital.

"In the case of closure, it will be necessary to import energy probably from France, in other words produced by the nuclear sector," underlined Belgium's energy minister Paul Magnette.

"Germany now risks landing in a position with a very uneven energy policy," Swedish environment minister Andreas Carlgren also noted. He pointed out that Berlin will also revert to its coalmines, planned closures for which triggered a wave of strikes.

However, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Finland, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia and Romania each also have new reactors planned -- even if Italy has frozen thoughts of returning to the technology it abandoned in 1987.

Even Japan has not given up on atomic energy, as Prime Minister Naoto Kan confirmed at last week's G8 meeting of major industrialised states in France.

China, an emerging renewables world leader alongside smaller specialist producers such as Denmark, also has 34 nuclear projects slated, 26 of which are already undergoing construction.

EU energy commissioner Guenther Oettinger is aware that 30 percent of the bloc's energy comes from nuclear generation.

While Greenpeace insists 68 percent of EU electricity needs can come from renewables by 2030 and 99.5 percent by 2050, nuclear output still has priority access to transportation grids.