Atomic Talks Merkel's New Coalition Agrees to Extend Nuclear Reactor Lifetimes

Germany's coalition talks aren't yet complete. But a document from the negotiations shows that Chancellor Angela Merkel's next government wants to jettison a law which limits nuclear reactor lifetimes and stipulates a complete phaseout of atomic energy by the early 2020s.

Germany's next government intends to extend the lifetimes of many nuclear reactors in the country.

Germany's next government intends to extend the lifetimes of many nuclear reactors in the country.

It was clear from the moment that Germans voted the Social Democrats (SPD) out of the government at the end of September that the country's planned phase out of nuclear energy was in danger. Now, according to documents from the ongoing coalition negotiations between Chancellor Angela Merkel and her likely new coalition partners the Free Democrats (FDP) -- papers which have been obtained by SPIEGEL ONLINE -- the phase out of the phase out is about to become official government policy.

"Atomic energy will be required as a bridge technology until affordable, climate-friendly energy sources are reliably available in sufficient quantities. The limit on German reactor lifetimes to 32 years is thus rescinded," reads the paper, which was hammered out by the coalition working group responsible for environmental issues.

The plan to jettison nuclear power was passed in 2002 by the SPD-led government under Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and his coalition partners the Greens. The limit on reactor lifetimes to 32 years foresaw Germany's last nuclear facility shutting down by the early 2020s. During her first term as chancellor, Merkel agreed not to touch the issue, given that the SPD was her junior coalition partner.

A Free Hand

Now that she is paired with the FDP, a party which has long expressed its opposition to backing out of the atomic power business, she has a free hand.

Still, the plan calls for older reactors to improve safety before being allowed to remain online longer. "Older reactors will only be allowed to continue operations if they install structural protection against an airplane crash comparable with those at the newest facilities," the paper reads.

It remains unclear, however, just what German power companies will offer in return for the windfall. The three biggest power companies, E.on, RWE and EnBW stand to make billions in extra profits as a result of extended reactor lifetimes -- some estimates go as high as €60 billion -- and Berlin would like to siphon off some of the revenues for a fund to promote renewable energies.

Those negotiations have not yet been completed. But the working group paper proposes that half of the additional profits be dedicated to "research and development in the fields of renewable energy, energy efficiency and power-plant, network and storage technology."

Merkel's conservatives and the FDP also want to resume research into the suitability of the Gorleben salt mines as a nuclear waste repository. Research was suspended by the Schröder government in 2000 due to scientific questions about the long-term stability of the site.

cgh -- with wire reports


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