German minister calls for nuclear shutdown

Germany's Environment Ministers has called for the country's oldest reactors to be shut down immediately, ahead of the government's planned phase out of all nuclear power by 2020.

The previous Green/Social Democrat coalition drafted policy which would see Germany shut down all 19 of its nuclear power stations by 2020.

The political balance has since shifted and the Social Democrats now share power with the Christian Democrats who are in favour of keeping the country’s nuclear rectors, putting the earlier policy in jeopardy.

Despite this, Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel, a Social Democrat, is arguing for the shutdown of Germany’s oldest generation of reactors with immediate effect, pointing to breakdowns of two of the plants in recent months.

His proposal covers six reactors.

As a trade-off, he says, newer reactors could be kept running beyond 2020 to compensate for the loss of power generation from closing the ageing six early.

While it is easy to see the logic of his arguments, the nuclear industry would rather give up some of the power generation from the newer plants to keep the old reactors running longer.

Europe is divided on the nuclear option, with many nations pointing to its low emissions in these carbon-constrained times and also advocating the long-term energy security it offers with potential instability in supply of oil from the Middle East and now gas from Russia.

Following the Chernobyl disaster, Italy became the first country with nuclear reactors to close them down, shutting the last of its four plants in 1990, while France relies on the nuclear option to generate around three quarters of its electricity and has no plans to stop doing so.

The UK Government is also leaning towards a new generation of nuclear plants, using the low-carbon arguments to justify the move.

David Gibbs

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