Germany warms to nuclear

The debate over the future of nuclear power in Germany is heating up once again following a clash between the economy and environment ministers over the nuclear phase-out promised by the previous government.

All of Germany’s 17 nuclear power plants, which provide 30% of the country’s electricity, were to be phased out by 2020 and gradually replaced with renewables following an accord with the nuclear industry made under the country’s last Green-Social Democrat coalition government.

But it seems that plans for the phase-out could be withdrawn under Angela Merkel’s government, after economy minister Michael Gloss has said that nuclear is a necessary component of Germany’s future energy mix. Quoting predictions of the evolution of oil prices, he said that renewables will remain uncompetitive commercially.

He argued that coal-fired power stations would replace nuclear as these are progressively closed down – thus actually increasing carbon emissions.

Environment minister Sigmar Gabriel, on the other hand, has called for the immediate closure of the country’s oldest nuclear power plants. In particular, he called for the planned 2009 closure of the Brunsbuttel power station near Hamburg to be brought forward.

An incident across the border in Sweden that involved the failure of Germen-made components also used in Germany’s nuclear plants caused anti-nuclear protests to erupt in both countries mid-July (see related story).

Germany has a strong renewables base, with 10% of its electricity coming from “clean” energy sources. While it is a world leader in onshore wind, when it comes to offshore wind farms Germany has some catching up with other European countries such as Denmark.

Perhaps in an attempt to stand up to this challenge, the country is constructing a 54MW offshore farm called Baltic 1 off the eastern Baltic coast.

Goska Romanowicz

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