Radioactive Legal Battle Energy Firm RWE Sues Berlin Over Reactor Shutdown

Chancellor Angela Merkel's temporary shutdown of seven nuclear reactors has landed in court. Energy giant RWE on Friday filed suit against Merkel's move, hampering her efforts to come up with a new policy on nuclear energy.
The Biblis nuclear power plant in the German state of Hesse. The A reactor was temporarily shut down by the German government earlier this month.

The Biblis nuclear power plant in the German state of Hesse. The A reactor was temporarily shut down by the German government earlier this month.

Foto: dapd

The German energy giant RWE on Friday became the first to legally challenge Chancellor Angela Merkel's decision to temporarily shut down the country's oldest nuclear reactors. The company filed a lawsuit in an administrative court in the German city of Kassel against the mandated shutdown of its Biblis A reactor.

The move was not entirely unexpected. Earlier in the week, SPIEGEL revealed that RWE was considering the move. The company said that stock ownership laws left them little option but to file for damages. Still, the lawsuit could prove to be a significant hurdle for Merkel's rapidly changing nuclear energy policy.

In mid-March, her government announced a snap three month shutdown of the country's seven oldest nuclear plants, pending a safety review, in response to the nuclear disaster unfolding in Fukushima, Japan. Merkel also temporarily suspended a law which allowed the extension of reactor lifespans -- a policy which was one of her signature issues last autumn.

At the time of her nuclear about-face two weeks ago, it was unclear what Merkel's government had in store for the future of nuclear power in Germany. But last weekend, her Christian Democrats (CDU) suffered embarrassing defeats in two important state elections. Her coalition partners from the business-friendly Free Democrats -- a party which had been a major proponent of nuclear energy -- also experienced significant losses. The anti-nuclear Greens made important gains.

Now, the chancellor has said she will present a plan for a phase-out of nuclear power this summer. "My view of nuclear energy has been changed by events in Japan," Merkel said on Monday. "We simply cannot go back to business as usual."

The FDP said earlier this week that they hoped eight German reactors would permanently be taken offline.

Last autumn's extension of reactor lifespans effectively repealed a law passed by former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder which foresaw the complete phase-out of nuclear power in Germany by 2022. Berlin based its shutdown order on a provision in the nation's nuclear energy law, which allows for a decommissioning of plants when dangers to life, health or material goods exist.

'Protecting its Stockholders'

RWE said in a statement Friday that following a legal review, the company does not believe that such reasons exist. "With this step, RWE is ensuring the protection of the interest of its stockholders," the company said in the statement.

Several independent legal experts in Germany have also questioned the legal basis for the shutdown in recent weeks.

The CEO of RWE, Jürgen Grossmann, has argued that German plants are safe, regardless of what happens in Japan, though the company has publicly supported safety inspections. Industry officials predict the three-month shutdown will cost Germany's four largest energy companies more than €500 million ($710 million) in lost revenues.

The Biblis nuclear power plant is in the central German state of Hesse, and sits along the Rhine River. The A unit at the plant began operation in 1974. The B unit, which went on-line shortly thereafter, is currently closed in order to make revisions to the plant, according to information from the company.

mbw -- with wire reports
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