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A Green Light for Atomic Power: German Parliament Extends Nuclear Plant Lifespans

Opponents of nuclear powered suffered a setback in Berlin on Thursday as the federal parliament approved legislation that would effectively repeal Germany's planned withdrawal from atomic power. Now nuclear plants can stay open an average of 12 years longer than originally planned.

Greenpeace protesters on Thursday flung a poster from the facade of the headquarters of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's political party: "CDU: Politics for Nuclear Companies". Zoom
dapd

Greenpeace protesters on Thursday flung a poster from the facade of the headquarters of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's political party: "CDU: Politics for Nuclear Companies".

Germany's parliament voted on Thursday to approve the extension of the lifespans on 17 nuclear power plants in the country. Politicians with Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) as well as their coalition partners, the business-friendly Free Democrats (FDP), voted to allow the plants to remain online for an average of an additional 12 years each. Under the law, Germany's last nuclear power plant is now slated to be closed in 2035.

The German government is now seeking to implement the law without a vote in the Bundesrat, the country's upper legislative chamber, which represents the interests of the country's 16 states.

Shortly before the decision, opposition politicians conducted a contentious debate in parliament in the hope of scuppering the new law. Jürgen Tritten, the floor whip for the Green Party, accused the government of forcing through the nuclear deal by driving roughshod over the rights of the opposition and described Merkel's party as a "band of bullies." Ten years ago, the Green Party and the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), who then governed the country in a coalition under Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, agreed to the country's full withdrawal from nuclear power by around 2022. Thursday's vote effectively reverses that legislation.

Advantages for 'Four Dinosaurs of Energy Supply'

Sigmar Gabriel, leader of the SPD and a former environment minister, accused the government on Thursday of providing increased nuclear plant lifespans to the country's largest energy utility companies -- including Eon, RWE, EnBW and Vattenfall -- in order to push firms that offer eco-friendly electricity out of the market. "You are creating advantages for the four dinosaurs of energy supply," he said.

Environment Minister Norbert Röttgen, a member of Merkel's CDU, countered the criticism by saying: "You are at a dead loss when it comes to energy policy." He said the Greens, SPD and far-left Left Party were scaremongering and merely seeking to gain votes. "They are placing their party interests before the interests of the country," he said. Röttgen also stated that his government's energy plan -- which foresees 80 percent of all electricity coming from clean energy sources by 2050 -- was the most ambitious renewable energy program in the world.

"That is a revolution," he said.

On Thursday, around 50 municipally-controlled energy suppliers across Germany began a campaign against the new law. The city-owned facilities, which are part of a growing trend in the country, claim that investments of €6 billion ($8.31 billion) in renewable energy programs are endangered by the extension of the nuclear power plant lifespans because they will cement the market power of atomic plants. The cities said they were investigating the possibility of submitting a legal complaint to the European Commission in Brussels.

The Green Party, in particular, sought in vain on Thursday to prevent the vote at the last minute. With numerous statements on the floor and 24 petitions for changes to the draft, which must be approved in individual votes, the Greens succeeded in causing significant delays. Green members of parliament also wore black clothing with a small green "X," a symbol of the anti-nuclear opposition movement against the test facility in Gorleben, Germany, where the country's nuclear waste is held in temporary storage.

Jörg van Essen, a senior party official with the FDP, angered many with his statement that, "it has never done any parliament in history good when a party appeared appeared wearing the same uniform," a statement he made while staring at the Greens. Members of the party were angered by the statement, which they considered to be a comparison to the uniformed Nazi members of parliament during the Weimar Republic era.

Meanwhile, members of the government accused the Greens of disobeying parliament. "The Greens need to know one thing: The greater the racket they cause, the more damage they do to themselves in terms of how seriously they are taken outside," said Peter Altmaier, a senior member of the CDU.

High Court Challenge Anticipated

Left Party floor leader Gregor Gysi accused the government of dividing society with its nuclear legislation. "What will you tell the people when, at some point, a nuclear power plant blows up in our faces?"

The Greens and the Left Party, as well as the SPD and several German states, have all said they want to obtain an injunction against the legislation in Germany's federal constitutional court if the government, as planned, seeks to implement the law without the Bundesrat's approval. Merkel's coalition government does not have a majority in the states-controlled upper chamber, which must co-determine a large share of legislation in Germany.

dsl -- with wires

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Nuclear Power Plants in Germany


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