Plants to Stay Online German Government Wants to Extend Nuclear Reactor Life Spans

The German nuclear lobby appears to have scored a major victory last week. SPIEGEL has obtained information indicating that the government in Berlin will permit the continued operation of all German nuclear power plants -- including two decades-old reactors. The government will allow the companies to use tricks that will buy time until Berlin can change existing phase-out legislation.
Germany's Biblis nuclear power plant, owned by energy utility RWE, contains one reactor unit that was scheduled for an imminent phase-out in Germany.

Germany's Biblis nuclear power plant, owned by energy utility RWE, contains one reactor unit that was scheduled for an imminent phase-out in Germany.

Foto: ddp

The German government appears set to halt or at least slow the country's planned phase-out of nuclear power. It decided at a high-level meeting  of government officials and executives of energy utility companies last Friday in Berlin to initially keep all 17 nuclear power plants online, SPIEGEL reports in its Monday issue.

This includes the aging Neckarwestheim 1 and Biblis A power plants -- online since 1976 and 1974 respectively -- which were slated for closure by 2010 when German legislation was passed in 2002 by then Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) and its government coalition partner, the Greens, stipulating the phase-out and shut-down of all of Germany's atomic power plants by around 2022.

Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the center-left Social Democrats kept the withdrawal in place in the last coalition government. But the new government -- comprised of the CDU and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union, as well as the business-friendly Free Democratic Party -- appears set to extend the operating life of the country's nuclear reactors. At Friday's meeting, SPIEGEL has learned, government officials indicated they would allow older nuclear plants to continue operating until Berlin come up with a new energy policy -- which could be completed by October.

In order to facilitate the extensions, the companies will be able to transfer unused energy production credits from newer nuclear reactors to the Neckarswestheim and Biblis facilities, thus effectively expanding their life spans. The utility companies will have to agree among themselves over the terms of those transfers, according to the SPIEGEL report.

Final Decisions to Come after State Election

Berlin is not expected to pursue its goal of extending the life span of Germany's nuclear power plants until after a pivotal state election with possible national implications for Merkel's government in North Rhine-Westphalia in May.

Over the weekend, Sigmar Gabriel, former German environment minister and head of the opposition SPD, expressed outrage over the development, calling it a "dirty deal" on the part of the new government. On Saturday, Gabrial accused Merkel of being "afraid" in the run-up to the state election and said she was trying to hide the issue by using "tricks and deception." In truth, though, he stated, "the dirty deals have already been cut: The older nuclear plants will continue to operate, the atomic lobby will earn billions and the government will get a few hundred million in breadcrumbs." Nowhere, Gabriel warned, is lobbying as dangerous as in the nuclear industry. By keeping decades-old reactors online that have had problems, he argued, the government is putting the profits of the nuclear industry ahead of the safety of the people.

As part of its government coalition agreement, Merkel's government has said it would seek to extend the life spans of existing reactors to serve as a bridge technology until more renewable energies are in place if utility companies upgrade them with modern safety equipment. A significant portion of the windfall of new profits -- which could run as high as €233 billion to €339 billion ($479.6 billion) -- would also be funnelled to the government to invest in renewable energies.

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