There has been a strong shift in the talk about nuclear power in the European Union, driven by concerns about global climate change, energy prices and increasing dependence on Russian oil and natural gas. Until recently, Germany’s official position has been that it would continue with its plan to shut down all of its operating reactors by 2021. That plan was designed and implemented under the direction of Gerhard Schroeder when he led a Social Democrat (SPD)-Green Party coalition government, but it was also a formal part of the coalition agreement between the Christian Democrats (CDU) led by the current chancellor, Angela Merkel and the SPD.
I have never understood why there has not been a greater call for the decision to be reconsidered, especially in light of the fact that Schroeder went to work for the Russian natural gas monopoly – GAZPROM – almost immediately after leaving office. That action has left me with grave suspicions about the motivation for pushing an agreement that would force Germany to import far more gas from Russia in order to make up for the power that the nuclear plants currently supply to the grid. Though there MIGHT be an innocent explanation, it sure seems logical for me to assume that Schroeder’s admitted desire to become wealthy had a lot to do with his official decision making.
Merkel has always indicated her personal support for including nuclear power as part of the energy supply solution, but she has also indicated that she was not going to unilaterally renege on the agreement during the time that her coalition was in power. The SPD has been firm in its continued opposition to nuclear power and some of the government ministers serving in the coalition government have made strong statements indicating that they would like to see the shutdown plan accelerated.
According to Merkel’s Conservatives Advocate Return to Nuclear Energy that all changed recently when the top leaders of Merkel’s CDU had a meeting with the top leaders of the Christian Social Union (CSU). During the meeting Ms. Merkel declared that the decision to phase out the existing nuclear plants in Germany was “absolutely wrong”. It is relatively rare for a country’s leader to declare that one of its official policies is absolutely wrong, especially in a country where coalition agreements are necessary in order to form a majority government.
It appears that Ms. Merkel is now actively seeking another coalition partner with a different position on nuclear power that will enable her government to function after the next elections – currently scheduled for September 2009. I am hopelessly ignorant about the election rules in Germany – is it possible to call for an early election there like it is in the UK?
Update NEI Nuclear Notes blogged about the same topic at Germany, Merkel Rethinking Nuclear Power