May 19, 2024

Panel Urges Germany to Close Nuclear Plants by 2021

The recommendations, which have not been made public, will go to a panel of specialists meeting in a closed session in Berlin this weekend. Mrs. Merkel said this week that Germany would certainly end its reliance on nuclear energy, and that the only question was how long nuclear would be needed as a “bridge technology” until other forms of energy could meet the country’s needs.

Nuclear energy provides 22.6 percent of Germany’s electricity, according to the Energy Ministry. Coal supplies more than 42 percent; natural gas, 13.6 percent; and renewable sources like wind and solar, 16.5 percent. Other sources provide the rest.

Not even Japan, site of the nuclear disaster that followed an earthquake and tsunami in March, plans to abandon nuclear power. Prime Minister Naoto Kan said on Tuesday that Japan would scrap plans to build 14 more nuclear reactors while the government re-evaluated its energy policies. Nuclear energy provides 30 percent of Japan’s electricity.

Germany’s move away from nuclear energy is being closely watched by environmental groups and other European governments, particularly those in Central and Eastern Europe that plan to develop or expand nuclear power production.

“At the moment, there is really a mixed picture in responding to the Japanese disaster by countries that have nuclear power,” said Serge Gas, a spokesman for the Nuclear Energy Agency, part of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

While Russia, Britain, France and Poland have said they will leave their nuclear energy policies largely unchanged, Italy and Switzerland have stopped development of new reactors. Germany, which has a strong antinuclear movement that cuts across the political spectrum, has gone the furthest in reacting to the Fukushima accident.

According to the World Nuclear Association, an industry group, 440 nuclear reactors operate in 31 countries, producing about 15 percent of the world’s electricity. The association said more than 60 plants were being built in 15 countries, notably Russia, China and South Korea.

Germany has 17 reactors; six are boiling water reactors, which is the design used at Fukushima, and 11 use pressurized water. The United States has 104 operating reactors, of which 35 are boiling water reactors and 69 are pressurized water.

Big German energy companies, including RWE and E.ON, have warned that the rapid withdrawal of nuclear power could spell disaster for the economy, lead to electricity shortages and turn the country into a net importer of energy.

But the so-called Ethics Commission appointed by Mrs. Merkel said that rather than being damaged by the abandonment of nuclear power, the German economy could benefit from the reduction of energy use and the development of alternative power sources.

The commission is led by a conservative, Klaus Töpfer, a former environment minister and former executive director of the United Nations Environment Program, and Matthias Kleiner, president of the German Research Foundation. The 22 panel members were drawn from the energy industry and nongovernmental organizations.

“A withdrawal from nuclear power will spur growth, offer enormous technical, economic and social opportunities to position Germany even further as an exporter of sustainable products and services,” said the panel’s 28-page report, which was seen by The International Herald Tribune. “Germany could show that a withdrawal from nuclear energy is the chance to create a high-powered economy.”

But while citing the economic benefits of a withdrawal from nuclear power, the commission emphasized that Germany’s 17 nuclear plants should be closed for safety reasons. “The withdrawal is necessary to fundamentally eliminate risks,” it said.

The commission also said it would be unacceptable for Germany to ration electricity, import power from nuclear plants in other countries or increase carbon dioxide emissions. “There is an ethical responsibility to combat climate change,” it said.

The commission acknowledged that it was not possible to greatly accelerate the development of renewable energy. Instead, it recommended measures, including reducing energy use by as much as 60 percent and developing cleaner technologies for coal-fired power plants.

Only last year, Mrs. Merkel overturned a decision by a previous Social Democratic-Green government to close Germany’s nuclear plants by 2022, instead allowing the newer reactors to operate well into the 2030s.

She quickly changed her mind in March, as the damage to the Fukushima Daiichi plant became apparent. She ordered seven of Germany’s power plants to be temporarily closed, instituted a moratorium on construction of new reactors, ordered an intensive review of security and safety measures, and appointed the Ethics Commission.

She announced the decision days before regional elections in southwestern Germany, where the Greens soundly defeated the governing conservatives.

Matthew L. Wald contributed reporting from Washington.

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