New nuclear debate in German government coalition

Shortly after the 2006 European Spring Summit, which focused on energy policy and only days before a German national summit on energy policy, industry is pressurising Chancellor Angela Merkel to water down the previous red-green government’s policy of phasing out of nuclear energy.

Energy suppliers, industry and political decision makers will come together on 3 April 2006 in Berlin to discuss Germany’s future energy policy. Environmental NGOs were not invited. Although the sensitive issue of stepping out of nuclear energy has been kept off the agenda for now, it will be overshadowing discussions, since an open conflict has emerged between Social Democrat and Christian Democrat ministers in the grand coalition government led by Ms Merkel. 

Economic Affairs Minister Michael Glos, who is a member of the CSU, the Bavarian sister party of Ms Merkel’s CDU, was recently quoted in the press as saying that in order to bypass bottlenecks in supply, nuclear power plants needed to remain operational for longer periods than laid down in an agreement concluded between industry and the red-green government. The agreement has also been integrated into the coalition agreement which paved the way for the present government. 

Sigmar Gabriel, the Social Democrat minister for the environment, said: “Phasing out will continue. The industry has signed an agreement, and I assume that they adhere to its terms.” Mr. Gabriel said there were rumours according to which all operators of nuclear power plants in Germany will send in requests to keep their plants running for longer periods. He said that he will turn down all such requests. 

The red-green government’s energy policy, which was partly based on replacing nuclear energy with imported natural gas from Russia, has recently come under attack after the nomination of Ms Merkel’s predecessor, the Social Democrat Gerhard Schröder, as chairman of the supervisory board of the consortium operating the planned gas pipeline between Vyborg in Russia and Greifswald in North-Eastern Germany.

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