Germany's Atomic Energy Phase-Out: Nuclear Poker Heats Up in Berlin

It seems a foregone conclusion that Berlin will back away from the nuclear energy phase-out legislated in 2002. But with power companies set to profit handsomely, the bluffing has begun.

Nuclear fuel elements inside of the reactor at Germany's Biblis atomic energy station. Some reactors may have their lives extended by the new government. Zoom
REUTERS

Nuclear fuel elements inside of the reactor at Germany's Biblis atomic energy station. Some reactors may have their lives extended by the new government.

With the best election-day result in their history behind them, Germany's business-friendly Free Democrats (FDP) promised tough negotiations as coalition talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives begin on Monday.

But another set of negotiations on the horizon promises to be even tougher. Both the FDP and Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) have expressed a desire to revisit a 2002 law which calls for Germany's nuclear reactors to be taken offline by the beginning of the 2020s. The new government would like to extend the deadline, a move that could generate as much as €60 billion in extra profits for Germany's three largest energy companies.

The question, though, is what E.on, RWE and EnBW will offer in return. Indeed, politicians from both parties over the weekend seemed eager to counter concerns that Germany's energy branch was in for a huge windfall. Andreas Pinkwart, a leading FDP politician, even said that his party could imagine backing away from an extension of reactor lifetimes.

Windfall

"Should the energy companies not accept our conditions, then the current phase-out plans will not be changed," Pinkwart told SPIEGEL in the issue which hit newsstands on Sunday.

Volker Kauder, CDU floor leader in the Bundestag, Germany's parliament, also reiterated demands for the energy companies to forego much of the additional profit that could fall to them. He told the German public television station ARD on Sunday that up to €50 billion could be generated for the promotion of renewable energies.

Both were referring to preliminary plans that would see Germany's energy giants paying billions into an alternative energy fund should reactor lifetimes be extended.

Controversial

The German Chambers of Industry and Commerce (IHK) also got into the act on Monday by demanding that, should reactor lifetimes be extended, that energy prices be cut across the board. "The best thing would be if the additional revenues were passed directly on to the consumer in the form of price cuts," IHK President Hans Heinrich Driftmann told the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung in an interview printed on Monday.

Germany legislated the phase out of nuclear energy in 2002 when Chancellor Gerhard Schröder was still at the helm together with his coalition partners, the Greens. Schröder lost the 2005 election to Merkel, but his Social Democrats (SPD) carried on in government as Merkel's junior coalition partner, making the phase-out untouchable. The SPD collapse in elections a week ago, though, has opened the door to those within Merkel's party and inside the FDP who would like reactor lifetimes extended.

The issue, though, remains a controversial one. Some 60 percent of Germans are in favor of the phase out, according to a recent survey carried out by Emnid.

cgh -- with wire reports

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