Merkel announces 3-month shutdown of oldest reactors


GERMANY:CHANCELLOR ANGELA Merkel has announced a three-month shutdown of Germany’s oldest nuclear reactors pending a security review.

The explosions in the Japanese nuclear power plant, triggered by last week’s earthquake, have prompted 100,000 Germans to take to the street in protest at Dr Merkel’s government support for the nuclear energy sector.

After taking office, Dr Merkel’s administration set aside a proposal to make Germany nuclear-free by 2020, extending the life of ageing nuclear plants into the mid-2030s.

Dr Merkel reacted yesterday to the growing pressure with a temporary moratorium, during which she has called for a discussion about safety standards and Germany’s continued lack of a storage facility for nuclear waste.

“We are launching a safety review of all nuclear reactors . . . and all reactors in operation since the end of 1980 are to be idled a three-month moratorium,” said Dr Merkel.

“This moratorium will run until June 15th, after which we will know how to proceed.”

Energy companies criticised the move as “rash and expensive”, while the political opposition suggested it was a stunt ahead of state elections this month.

The seven reactors to be shut down have all been operational since before 1980; two are in the southwestern state of Baden-Württemberg where Dr Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) are fighting for re-election on March 27th.

“This is election trickery,” said Sigmar Gabriel, head of the opposition Social Democrats (SPD), saying Dr Merkel would return after the election “and say that everything is okay and that German nuclear plants are safe”.

Dr Merkel’s government reversed the SPD-Green Party nuclear shutdown in 2009, claiming the renewable energy sector could not yet fill the quarter of Germany’s energy needs currently generated by its 17 nuclear energy plants.

The government denied the move marked a nuclear energy renaissance in Germany, pointing out that it would permit no new nuclear energy plants to be built and that it viewed atomic energy as a “bridging technology” until the renewables sector had matured.

The 2009 reversal met with little widespread protests, but the Japanese disaster has reawakened fears of the Chernobyl and Three-Mile Island incidents in Germany.

On Saturday, anti-nuclear protesters formed a 45km human chain from a nuclear plant to Stuttgart.

Recent polls show that 60 per cent of Germans want to shutter all 17 nuclear plants in the country, with 70 per cent fearful that a Japanese-style disaster could happen in Germany.