Merkel vows quick switch to renewable energy

17th March 2011, Comments 0 comments

Angela Merkel vowed Thursday that Germany would accelerate the transition to renewable energy as Europe's top economy began rethinking its disputed nuclear policy in the light of events in Japan.

"We want to reach the age of renewable energy as soon as possible. That is our goal," the chancellor told parliament during a fiery speech that drew frequent opposition jeers, indicating the depth of passion over the issue.

Merkel called for a "measured exit" from nuclear power and said "everything would be put under the microscope" during a three-month period to consider the future of energy policy in Germany.

On Monday, she announced the three-month moratorium on plans approved last year to postpone by more than a decade until the mid-2030s when the last of Germany's 17 nuclear reactors are turned off.

"We cannot and should not just go back to business as usual," Merkel told parliament.

On Tuesday, she ordered the temporary shutdown of Germany's seven oldest nuclear reactors while authorities conduct safety probes. At least one was mothballed for good.

"When the apparently impossible happens in such a highly developed country as Japan ... then the whole situation changes," she said.

She added switching to renewable energy would require a "broad consensus" in society and in parliament, amid rowdy scenes as the Social Democrats (SPD) and ecologist Greens vociferously shouted their opposition to her plans.

"We want to go back to a nuclear exit in 2020," said SPD leader Sigmar Gabriel.

Polls consistently show that nuclear power is unpopular in the country and protests against it regularly attract large crowds.

And the political fallout for Merkel of the heated nuclear debate could well be highly damaging.

In a protest on Saturday, tens of thousands formed a 45-kilometre (28-mile) human chain between a nuclear plant and Stuttgart. The demo was planned beforehand, but events in Japan swelled numbers.

It took place in the southwestern state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, where on March 27, Merkel's centre-right Christian Democrats (CDU) face losing power after 58 years in charge in a vital state election.

The SPD in Baden-Wuerttemberg have vowed to switch off the state's two oldest nuclear power stations by 2020 if they win the election. Polls suggest a tight race.

Gabriel accused Merkel of "electioneering" ahead of the vote.

© 2011 AFP

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