Germany Formally Votes to Abandon Nuclear Power by 2022

World | June 30, 2011, Thursday // 20:48|  views

German Chancellor Angela Merkel (C) casts her ballot during the vote on energy laws on the floor of the German Bundestag in Berlin, Germany, 30 June 2011. EPA/BGNES

The Bundestage, the lower house of Germany's Parliament, has voted to end the country's nuclear power industry by 2022, a move that is expected to bring closure to three decades of violent protests and political controversy about the use of atomic power.

Two opposition parties supported Chancellor Angela Merkel's center-right coalition in the key ballot. The nuclear power ban was adopted with 513-79 votes and 8 abstentions on the bill that sets closure dates for all of Germany's 17 nuclear plants, DPA reported.

Germany will thus the first major nuclear-powered nation to have completely renounced the technology, dismantling all its plants. Some of the sites will be reused to build coal-fired and natural-gas-fired electricity plants.

The March 11 tsunami in Japan, which caused a breakdown of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, was the last straw that swung public opinion in Germany against nuclear-generated electricity.

For decades, anti-nuclear activists have battled riot police outside power plants and nuclear dumps.

DPA reminds that when Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) extended the nuclear phase-out date last year from 2022 to 2036, it was dubbed the "atomic party."

In March, ahead of key regional elections, Merkel performed a U-turn, and restored the old expiry date.

By 2022, Germany must gradually build wind turbines and plants fired by natural gas to replace the reactors, which provided 23% of the country's electricity until last year.

Eight reactors have already been powered down, and other nine have been given individual closure deadlines.

More votes followed, on a 700-page package of bills to authorize vast subsidies to improve home insulation and encourage renewable energy sources.

The government says it can raise the renewable fraction, mainly using wind and solar, to 35% by 2020, up from the current 19% of electricity supplies. But a think tank, RWI, has suggested that only 27% is realistic by that point.

"This is a great day in Germany," German Environment Minister Norbert Roettgen is quoted as saying, noting that - after more than 30 years of controversy and unbridgeable divisions - the parliament was voting through a consensus position on energy.

Germany had the most ambitious plan among the world's industrialized nations to convert to renewable energy, he said.

"They're saying abroad, if any country can do it, it'll be the Germans,' the Christian Democratic minister said.

But the opposition Social Democrats and Greens, who ruled Germany for seven years until 2005, claimed the nuclear sunset was their achievement, since they passed a similar closedown bill in 2001, only for Merkel to repeal it in 2010.

"We've suffered 30 years of abuse, and now you agree with us," said Sigmar Gabriel, the SPD leader. He challenged Merkel to call a snap election.

Abolishing nuclear power was a foundation policy of the Greens, who now command support from a quarter of Germans, surveys show. The party took out newspaper advertisements declaring that the closedown was a Green victory.

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Tags: Germany, Angela Merkel, German Chancellor, SPD, CDU, Greens, nuclear power, NPP, Nuclear Power Plant


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