Germany is to shut its entire nuclear power network over safety fears triggered by the meltdown of the Fukushima atomic plant in Japan.
Chancellor Angela Merkel announced that her country will pull the plug on nuclear energy by 2022.
Germany – a country without natural gas or oil supplies and virtually no domestic coal industry left – is the biggest industrial power to give up nuclear energy.
It now aims to become one of the greenest countries in the world – with a huge shift towards renewable energy and massive energy savings.
Mrs Merkel, hammered by the Green Party in vital regional elections this year, said: ‘We say the system has to be fundamentally changed and that it can be fundamentally changed. We want to see safety at the core of our energy production.’
Her decision follows a review she had ordered of Germany’s 17 nuclear plants after the earthquake that hit Japan in March, causing severe damage at Fukushima.
The nuclear industry appeared to be gearing up for a fight last night. A source said 2022 was an unrealistic target and that ‘all legal options are being considered’.
Chancellor Angela Merkel set up a panel to review the future of nuclear energy in the aftermath of the Japanese disaster.
The oldest eight nuclear reactors will remain permanently shut – seven were closed temporarily following Fukushima and another has been off the grid for years.
Six more will close in 2021 and the remaining three, Germany’s newest plants, will remain open until 2022 as a safety cushion to ensure there is no disruption to supply.
Mrs Merkel backtracked in March on an unpopular decision just months earlier to extend the life of ageing nuclear plants in Germany, where the majority of voters oppose atomic energy.
Her Christian Democrats, their Bavarian sister party the Christian Social Union and junior coalition partner the Free Democrats met on Sunday to discuss the nuclear future after an ethics commission ended its deliberations this weekend.
Some politicians had wanted a clause allowing for the agreement to be revised in future.
The Free Democrats wanted a flexible window for the exit, plus the option of bringing back at least one of the seven oldest nuclear reactors in case of emergency.
The coalition has agreed to keep one of the older reactors as a ‘cold reserve’ until 2013, if the transition to renewable energies cannot meet winter demand and if fossil fuels are not enough to make up for a potential shortfall.
The German decision on the future of nuclear energy still needs to go through parliament – and it could yet face opposition from the utilities that run the plants.
The announcement could be seized upon by nuclear opponents around the world amid post-Fukushima safety fears.
Juergen Grossmann, chief executive of the biggest power provider, RWE, has lobbied for nuclear plants to stay open longer, arguing that a quick exit would cost energy-intensive industry dearly and could threaten Germany’s industrial base.
Before Mrs Merkel shut down the oldest plants for three months, Germany got 23 percent of its power from nuclear plants.
Her about-turn has done little to regain her support, but has drawn scorn from the opposition and from within her own party ranks.
Tens of thousands of people demonstrated against nuclear energy at the weekend all across Germany.
Nuclear policy is heavily disputed in Germany and the issue has helped boost the Greens, who took control of one of the CDU’s stronghold states, Baden-Wuerttemberg, in an election in March.
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