Nuclear power overshadows energy summit
3 April 2006, BERLIN - Differences over nuclear power threatened to overshadow an "energy summit" called Monday by German Chancellor Angela Merkel aimed at boosting energy security for Europe's biggest economy.
3 April 2006
BERLIN - Differences over nuclear power threatened to overshadow an "energy summit" called Monday by German Chancellor Angela Merkel aimed at boosting energy security for Europe's biggest economy.
After trying to keep nuclear power off the agenda, Merkel capitulated in recent days and said there would be "no taboos" at the talks which bring together top government officials and CEOs of private German energy companies.
The previous government of Gerhard Schroeder's Social Democrats (SPD) with the Greens, agreed to shut down all nuclear power plants - which currently provide 30 per cent of Germany's electricity - by about 2020.
Merkel's Christian Democrats back a return to nuclear power. However, the SPD which serves in her government remains opposed to such a move and a "nein" to nukes has been written into the coalition pact.
But Germany's massive dependence on energy imports and the scare caused by Russia's shutting off gas to Ukraine last January has led to questioning the wisdom of fast-track closure of the country's 17 remaining nuclear power stations.
Germany already imports 97 per cent of its crude oil, 82 per cent of its natural gas and almost 60 per cent of its anthracite hard coal.
Brown coal, which is mined from huge open-cast strip mines mainly in eastern Germany, remains the country's one major domestic energy source, aside from renewables, and provides over 11 per cent of overall energy.
"We cannot have a sensible discussion on economic or environmental questions if we leave out nuclear power," said Wulf Bernotat, CEO of Germany's giant E.ON energy concern in comments to the newspaper Die Welt.
The CDU premier of Lower Saxony state, Christian Wulff, was blunter.
"We need a big debate on whether it is responsible to end nuclear power - I am convinced it is not," said Wulff.
Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel, an SPD member of Merkel's cabinet, insists that nuclear power is dead in Germany.
Gabriel says renewable energy sources including wind and solar energy can supply up to 25 per cent of German electricity by 2020. At present they provide 10 per cent.
He is also a big supporter of expanding coal-fired power plants using new clean coal technologies which radically cut emissions.
Last week the energy company RWE announced plans to invest 1 billion euros (1.2 billion dollars) in a new clean coal power plant that will not produce any carbon dioxide. This would be the first such plant in the world.
Representatives of RWE, along with power groups Vattenfall Europe, E.ON and EnBW will take part in the summit, which was also to debate ways to cut pollution and boost European energy cooperation.
No concrete decisions were expected at the Monday summit. The meeting is aimed at kicking off discussion which will lead to an energy blueprint for Germany due to be unveiled in 2007.
The meeting comes in the wake of soaring oil and electricity prices. In Germany, the average electricity bill for a normal household has risen by about 40 per cent since 2000, the Welt am Sonntag newspaper said.
Rising prices and growing insecurity have helped push energy to the top of the global political and economic agenda in recent months.
While European Union leaders earlier this month were unable to agree on forging a joint energy policy, they stressed the need for the 25-member bloc to talk to key energy producers and work to diversify external and indigenous energy sources.
Energy is also dominating Russia's one-year presidency of the Group of Eight (G8) leading industrial nations due to hold a summit in July in St Petersburg.
Subject: German news