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Germany to shut down nuclear reactors by 2022

Angela Merkel has committed to shutting down all of the country’s nuclear reactors by 2022, a task said by one minister to be as mammoth as the project to reunite East and West Germany in 1990.

Monday’s announcement, prompted by Japan’s nuclear disaster, will make Germany the first major industrialised nation to go nuclear-free in decades. It gives the country just over 10 years to find alternative sources for 23% of its energy.

The move, hammered out at a mammoth 14-hour overnight sitting at the Bundestag, came amid mass nationwide protests against nuclear power and at a low point for the chancellor’s Christian Democratic party (CDU), support for which has crumbled at the ballot box in five regional elections this year.

Although the proposal was welcomed among the general population, who have long been opposed to nuclear power, it was a move derided by one of Merkel’s own MPs as “knee-jerk politics”.

The plan is to keep shut eight reactors which were suspended in March in the immediate aftermath of the Fukushima disaster, and to close the rest by 2022.

The phase-out must be ratified in parliament and is likely to face strong opposition from utility companies. On Monday a spokesman for the energy giant RWE said that “all legal options” were on the table.

Last week, grid operators warned the phase-out could result in winter blackouts – a prospect Merkel scoffed at . She insisted the decision would not lead to Germany simply importing nuclear power.

“We will generate our own electricity from other sources,” the chancellor told a press conference in Berlin. She said the plans would give Germany a chance to be a “trailblazer” for renewable energy, suggesting it could eventually earn, rather than cost, the country money.

Energy firms warned that the decision – a total policy reversal – would require significant investment in energy infrastructure. Philipp Rösler, new head of the FDP party, which rules in coalition with the CDU, agreed, likening the task ahead to that which faced Germany in 1990 after reunification. A study in 2009 showed that €1.3 trillion (£1.1tn) had been transferred from the West to rebuild the East.

This comparison was also made in an editorial by the left-leaning Tageszeitung newspaper on Monday, which said Merkel’s decision was “historic” and “a moment like the fall of the Berlin Wall”.

The government’s vocabulary seemed to consciously echo the reunification process, with Merkel heralding an “Energie-Wende” – “die Wende” is the word for change which became shorthand for the fall of communism and reunification.

Die Welt, a conservative daily, said the policy U-turn demonstrated a “creeping rejection of the economic model which has transformed Germany into one of the richest countries in the world”.

The French poured scorn on Germany’s decision. “Germany will be even more dependent on fossil fuels and imports and its electricity will be more expensive and polluting,” said the French industry minister, Éric Besson. German households pay twice as much for power than homes in France, where 80% of electricity comes from atomic plants, he said.

Germany last year was a net exporter of power to France, according to data from the French grid operator, RTE. This trend was reversed last month after the accident at Fukushima and Merkel’s decision to halt Germany’s oldest reactors.

“Germany’s energy policy will only work if there are improvements at the same time,” the EU energy commissioner, Günther Oettinger, said on Monday.

He said there was a need for better grid infrastructure, storage capacity and forward planning as well as a more pronounced rise in renewable supply.

Germany plans to cut electricity usage by 10% and double the share of renewable energy to 25% by 2020.

Merkel first mooted an accelerated exit from nuclear power within days of the Fukushima meltdown, ordering a three-month “moratorium” during which nuclear power could be debated.

It was a remarkable U-turn. In September 2010, she had committed to extending the lives of Germany’s 17 nuclear plants.

Many of her party are unhappy with her handling of the situation.

“Knee-jerk politics like the reaction to Fukushima does not pay dividends,” said Mike Mohring, the head of the CDU faction in the Thuringian state parliament, last week.

Among other G8 nations, only Italy has abandoned nuclear power.

Article from The Guardian

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