Berlin - Germany on Monday became the first major
industrialised power to agree an end to nuclear power in the wake of the
disaster in Japan, with a phase-out due to be completed by 2022.
Chancellor Angela Merkel said the decision, hammered out by her
centre-right coalition overnight, marked the start of a "fundamental"
rethink of energy policy in the world's number four economy.
"We want the electricity of the future to be safer and
at the same time reliable and affordable," Merkel told reporters as she
accepted the findings of an expert commission on nuclear power she appointed in
March in response to the crisis at Japan's Fukushima plant.
"That means we must have a new approach to the supply
network, energy efficiency, renewable energy and also long-term monitoring of
the process," she said.
The commission found that it would be viable within a decade
for Germany to mothball all 17 of its nuclear reactors, eight of which are
currently off the electricity grid.
Environment Minister Norbert Roettgen announced the gradual
shutdown early on Monday after seven hours of negotiations at Merkel's offices
between the ruling coalition partners. He said the decision was
Seven of the plants already offline are the country's oldest
reactors, which the federal government shut down for three months pending a
safety probe after the Fukushima emergency.
The eighth is the Kruemmel plant, in northern Germany, which
has been offline for years due to repeated technical problems.
Monday's decision made Germany the first major industrial
power to announce plans to give up atomic energy entirely.
But it also means that the country will have to find the 22%
of its electricity needs currently covered by nuclear power from other sources.
Roettgen insisted there was no danger of blackouts.
"We assure that the electricity supply will be ensured
at all times and for all users," he pledged, without elaborating.
Already Friday, the environment ministers from all 16 German
regional states had called for the temporary moratorium on the seven plants to
be made permanent.
Roettgen said Monday that none of the eight reactors offline
would be reactivated. Six further reactors would be shut down by the end of
2021 and the three most modern would cease operations by the end of 2022.
Monday's decision is effectively a return to the timetable
set by a previous Social Democrat-Green coalition government a decade ago.
It is a humbling U-turn for Merkel, who at the end of 2010
decided to extend the lifetime of Germany's 17 reactors by an average of 12
years, which would have kept them open until the mid-2030s.
That decision was unpopular in Germany even before the
earthquake and tsunami in March that severely damaged the Fukushima facility,
which sparked mass anti-nuclear protests in Germany.
Merkel's zig-zagging on what has been a highly emotive issue
in the country since the 1970s has cost her since at the ballot box.
She herself blamed the Fukushima catastrophe for recent
state election debacles which saw the anti-nuclear Greens gain ground.
Environmental pressure group Greenpeace welcomed the plans
for a nuclear shutdown but lamented it would take until 2022.
Meanwhile industrial giant Daimler warned it would undermine
Germany's standing as Europe's top economy.
"I see certain risks for Germany as a place to do
business," chief executive Dieter Zetschke told the daily Bild, adding
that he saw the decision as "strongly coloured by emotions".
"Turning our backs on an affordable energy supply is
clearly a risk."
Some coalition members had called for a built-in revision
clause which could have seen the decision revisited, but this was thrown out in
the final round of negotiations.
The Fukushima accident has sparked a renewed global debate
about the safety of nuclear power, with opinions differing widely.
The United States and Britain have announced plans to build
new reactors as an alternative to producing harmful greenhouse gas emissions
while ensuring a relatively cheap supply of energy.