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Germany: popular resistance makes 2022 phase-out likely; movement wants faster

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
WISE Amsterdam

Only four of Germany’s 17 nuclear plants are in operation after some reactors were shut down for maintenance on May 21.  Some antinuclear organizations even warn for staged black-outs. Germany’s seven oldest reactors were shut down after the March 11 Fukushima disaster and five more have been halted for planned maintenance. Another hasn’t been in operation for years. Power generated from nuclear energy in Germany has fallen to under 10 percent, about half of what is produced from sun, wind and hydro, from 23 percent of the total before March.

On Saturday 26 March, only 2 weeks after the Fukushima accident started, an unprecedented 250.000 people took to the streets in four cities in Germany. Since Chancellor Merkel decided to revoke the 2000 phase-out scenario last year, the German anti-nuclear power movement became even stronger than it already was. Since that decision to prolong the life of nuclear power in Germany every Monday evening demonstrations ('Montagsdemo') took place in many cities and a 100,000+ demonstration in Berlin on September 18, 2010, but after Fukushima the movement changed gear with ‘Montagsdemos’ in several hundred (up to 840!) cities. For May 28, again large demonstrations in 21 cities are announced, which will most likely attract well over 150.000 people. Blockades are planned at two reactor sites (Biblis and Brokdorf) mid June just before the 3 months closure of the 7 oldest reactors ends. A decision whether to restart these 7 reactors has not been made yet.

Meanwhile, the pro-nuclear Angela Merkel changed her mind again and decided that a phase-out has to take place in about 10 years. The Bavarian faction of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative union, the CSU, set its first-ever target for Germany to stop using nuclear power late on May 20, suggesting a total withdrawal by 2022. The markedly conservative group that dominates Bavarian politics held a closed-door meeting for its top brass which ran several hours late as they debated the issue. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the next day that 2022 was "a good time" for Germany to end nuclear power.

Germany had been scheduled to stop all nuclear power production by 2020 as part of a legislation introduced by Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's Social Democrat and Green coalition in 2000, until the current administration overturned this law in 2010 after winning the general elections.

The Green party, meanwhile, says the current government should complete a nuclear withdrawal before the end of the current legislative period in 2017.

A draft report from Germany's ethics commission, set up by Chancellor Merkel to debate the pros and cons of nuclear energy in Germany, says the country could and should close down all its nuclear power stations by 2021. And it says this date could even be moved forward by some time.

Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats slipped behind the environmentalist opposition Greens into third place in Bremen, Germany's smallest state, in May 22's regional election. It was their worst showing there since 1959. In March, the Christian Democrats lost a traditional heartland, the southwestern state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, to a Green-led center-left coalition.

RWE buys into Dutch nuclear.
Meanwhile, one of the four German utilities with nuclear power plants, RWE, succeeded in the long wish to take a stake in the only Dutch nuclear power plant at Borssele. On May 17 it reached agreement with utility Delta for a 30% stake in the 1973 PWR.

Legal wranglings over ownership of  Borssele have been rumbling on since RWE announced an offer to buy Dutch utility Essent in January 2010. Essent owned 50% of the plant, together with Delta, through the EPZ joint venture. However, Delta took legal steps to prevent the sale of Essent's share in the Borssele reactor to RWE, arguing that the plant should remain in public ownership, in line with EPZ's articles of association and shareholders' agreement. Dutch courts duly upheld Delta's view and as a consequence, Essent's 50% stake in Borssele was excluded from the buyout to RWE. Now, according to a statement by Delta, the two companies have reached an agreement that will see Delta remain the majority shareholder, thereby protecting the public interest in the plant. Final agreements on the deal are due to be signed by the end of the year.

But more important, with this agreement, it is likely RWE will be a partner for Delta in the planned construction of (a) new reactor(s) at Borssele. At the moment there are still two formal applications for new units: one by Delta and one by the shareholders of Essent, called ERH.

Sources: AFP, 21 May 2011 / AP, 25 May 2011 / Sueddeutsche Zeitung,  20 May 2011 / Deutsche Welle, 11 and 21 May 2011 / World Nuclear News, 17 May 2011
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