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Merkel sets stage for nuclear power battle

Chancellor Angela Merkel. Photo courtesy AFP.
by Staff Writers
Berlin (AFP) Sept 6, 2010
Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday hailed government proposals to postpone Germany's exit from nuclear power as a "revolution," setting up what one opposition MP called a "fiery autumn" of protests.

"The government yesterday approved a far-reaching and sweeping concept for energy production in the coming decades, making our power generation the most efficient and most environmentally friendly in the world," Merkel said Monday.

"This means that we need nuclear energy, as well as coal, as a bridge technology. I know that many people are very sceptical and critical of nuclear power, and we take these concerns completely seriously."

She added: "This is nothing more and nothing less than a revolution in energy generation."

Opposition parties and environmentalists have vowed to fight the planned extension in the lifetime of Germany's 17 nuclear reactors for an average of 12 years beyond the scheduled shutdown of around 2020.

Calculations in the German media suggest that the last plant will not be switched off until 2040, and critics say that operators may get away with keeping some running for even longer than that.

Environment pressure group Greenpeace called the move "irresponsible."

"The government has missed the chance of the century to come up with a safe energy concept," spokesman Tobias Riedel told AFP.

Merkel, 56, hopes to be able to avoid putting the necessary legislation through the upper house, where her coalition has lost its majority, but the opposition has vowed to challenge this in Germany's highest court.

Even if the extension becomes law, the opposition Social Democrats (SPD), co-authors with the Greens of 2000's decision to exit nuclear power, said they will reverse Merkel's changes if they return to power.

Ministers arriving at Merkel's chancellery on Sunday evening were greeted by protestors waving banners and blowing whistles, and a demonstration in Berlin on September 18 is expected to draw protestors from all over Germany.

"I can promise the government a fiery autumn," warned Claudia Roth, co-head of the opposition Greens, while Gregor Gysi, co-head of the far-left Die Linke party, called the extension an "error of the highest order."

With no permanent storage site for radioactive waste in place and fears about a repetition of a disaster in Germany like the Chernobyl meltdown in Ukraine in 1986, polls indicate a majority of voters oppose an extension.

Nuclear power currently generates nearly one quarter of Germany's power, while renewables produce around 15 percent. The remainder comes from fossil fuels like coal.

Volatile oil prices in recent years and the desire to reduce carbon emissions, produced by fossil fuels and blamed for climate change, have resulted in something of a renaissance of nuclear power around the world.

Merkel says she wants to divert some of the profits that the extension will generate for power companies into expanding the renewables sector. Shares in the power companies were among the top gainers on Frankfurt's DAX 30 on Monday.

"The government is making clear that nuclear energy will be needed as a key element in energy generation for longer," said Johannes Teyssen, the head of power company EON.

Merkel "has created an election issue. The SPD and the Greens are going to make full use of it in 2011," when Germany holds six state votes, the Die Welt daily said in an editorial.

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Germany backs Baltic nuclear power plant: Merkel
Vilnius (AFP) Sept 6, 2010
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