By Georg Ismar, Berlin
GERMANY has announced plans to become the first major industrialised power to shut down all its nuclear plants, with the last to be closed by 2022.
Environment Minister Norbert Roettgen announced the government’s “irreversible” decision, which was prompted by the Japanese nuclear disaster.
Germany has 17 nuclear reactors, eight of which are currently off the electricity grid. Seven of those off-line are the country’s oldest nuclear reactors, which the government shut down for three months pending a safety probe after the Japanese disaster at Fukushima. The eighth, in northern Germany, has been mothballed for years because of technical problems.
Most of the plants are to be off-line by 2021, sources said, but three plants were to serve as a back-up in case of energy shortages and would be closed a year later.
The decision comes after the environment ministers from all 16 German regional states on Friday called for the temporary order on the seven plants to be made permanent. The agreement emerged after 12 hours of negotiations between Chancellor Angela Merkel and the leaders of the three government parties — Dr Merkel’s Christian Democrats, the Christian Social Union and the pro-business Free Democrats. Also involved in the talks were the chiefs of the two main opposition parties.
Dr Merkel has said she wants to set a policy to end a dispute that has split Germans since the 1970s.
The decision is effectively a return to the timetable set by the previous Social Democrat-Green coalition government a decade ago.
It is a humbling U-turn for Dr Merkel, who at the end of 2010 decided to extend the lifetime of the reactors by an average of 12 years, which would have kept them open until the mid-2030s. That decision was unpopular in Germany even before the earthquake and tsunami in March that severely damaged the Fukushima nuclear facility, prompting Dr Merkel’s review of nuclear policy.
Her zigzagging on the highly emotive issue has cost at the ballot box. Dr Merkel herself has blamed the Fukushima disaster for recent defeats in state elections.
In the latest election, on May 23, the anti-nuclear Greens pushed her conservative party into third place in a vote in the northern state of Bremen, the first time they had scored more votes than the conservatives in a regional or federal election.
The decision means Germany will have to find the 22 per cent of its electricity needs covered by nuclear reactors from another source.
Business supporters of the centre-right government of Dr Merkel had urged caution, warning that power shortages could cripple the country’s industry.
The government is considering keeping 2000 megawatts of capacity — equivalent to two power stations — on standby after the shutdown in case of emergency, an idea that experts consider difficult to put into practice.
■In Japan, the Tokyo Electric Power Co said two of its Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant workers had high levels of radiation in their thyroid glands. The power utility is assessing the level of exposure, according to a company statement issued yesterday.