Merkel in U-turn on nuclear reactor life extensions


GERMAN CHANCELLOR Angela Merkel has conceded that the lifespan of Germany’s nuclear reactors may be shortened in response to the Japanese nuclear crisis.

Five months after extending the operation life of nuclear reactors by an average of 12 years, the German leader has performed a rapid U-turn after nuclear safety emerged as a crucial factor in a weekend poll.

After shutting down seven ageing plants last week – ostensibly for three months but likely for good – Dr Merkel has announced a new “ethics commission” yesterday to study the use of nuclear power in Germany.

In addition, all nuclear plants will be subjected to a full inspection in the coming three months, the German leader added.

“I can’t rule out the possibility that the inspections will have an impact on the operational life spans,” said Dr Merkel, declining to be drawn on the fate of the plants already shut down under a three-month moratorium.

“I cannot predict the result of an entire inspection and I don’t want to engage in speculation. I have said that the time after the moratorium will be different from the time before the moratorium, and I can’t give further details today.” The new ethics panel will be headed by former German environment minister Klaus Töpfer and the president of the German Research Council, Matthias Kleiner. Other members of the new panel will include a chemical industry business figure, a philosopher and a Catholic archbishop.

Dr Merkel said she expects a report from them on April 15th on how Germany can best reconcile plant security with a “sensible” move away from nuclear power.

A decade ago, the Social Democrat-Green Party coalition forced German energy companies to wind down all nuclear plants by 2020. This was reversed last October by Dr Merkel’s government, a decision put on ice for three months by the chancellor last week.

Given Dr Merkel’s previous support for nuclear energy, the Green Party derided her efforts yesterday as a “declaration of political bankruptcy”.

“From her summit only one message has emerged, if in doubt, create a working group,” said Green Party co-leader Jürgen Trittin.

SPD leader Sigmar Gabriel said Berlin was playing for time ahead of Sunday’s state election in Baden-Württemberg.