Seven old reactors set to be mothballed

Germany’s seven oldest atomic reactors are likely to be switched off permanently after federal Environment Minister Norbert Röttgen struck an agreement with state counterparts on a final shutdown.

Seven old reactors set to be mothballed
Photo: DPA

Röttgen and his colleagues agreed on Friday that the reactors, which were temporarily powered down following Japan’s Fukushima disaster, should not ever be switched back on.

While the agreement will carry considerable weight amid Germany’s effort to step back from nuclear power, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s federal government will make the final decision in June.

Röttgen said the ministers had been united in calling for Germany to exit nuclear power as quickly as possible.

“Agreement rules when it comes to this goal,” he said.

Germany has a total of 17 nuclear reactors but eight are off the grid. In addition to the seven oldest closed by the government, the Kruemmel plant, in northern Germany, has been mothballed for years because of technical problems.

Saxony-Anhalt Environment Minister Onko Aeikens said: “The states call on the federal government, in light of the reports from the reactor safety and ethics commissions, to enact legislation so that those nuclear reactors affected by the temporary moratorium can be permanently and legally removed from the grid.”

Germans have long been uneasy about nuclear safety and Merkel called for a rethink of her government’s energy policy after the Japanese earthquake, vowing to close all nuclear plants as soon as possible.

She wants to build new conventional power plants and speed up development of renewable energy sources, such as wind power, instead.

The federal government will make its plans known by mid-June after reviewing reports it commissioned from the reactor safety agency and from a commission on ethics, specially set up for the purpose.

The state ministers, including both Merkel loyalists and opposition supporters, also urged Berlin to propose “an ambitious and realistic plan” for renouncing nuclear power altogether but they did not suggest a date.

Merkel recently suggested that 2022 was “a good time” for Germany to end nuclear power, backing a proposal by the Bavarian wing of her party.

The announcement came as a Federal Environment Agency (UBA) report revealed that a rapid phase-out of nuclear energy would have only a modest impact on Germany’s economy.

Daily Frankfurter Rundschau reported on Friday that an assessment by the agency found that if all nuclear power plants were shut down by 2017, electricity prices would increase by just 0.6 to 0.8 cents per kilowatt hour and there would be “no significant loss” in economic growth.

A shut-down would “have substantial benefits and outweigh the modest increases in electricity prices,” the report said.

The report also said the withdrawal could be achieved without the risk of electricity blackouts because “sufficient surplus reserve capacity” exists.

It added that new power plants would need to be built to support the withdrawal but that Germany could rely on the rapid development of renewable energy sources as well as ultra-efficient natural gas-fired power plants.

The study was prepared as background information following the earthquake and nuclear disaster in Japan, but has not been officially published, the Frankfurter Rundschau reported.

DAPD/The Local/AFP/djw/mdm

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Sweden to stop local governments blocking wind parks in final stages

Sweden's government has proposed a new law which will remove local municipalities' power to block wind parks in the final stages of the planning process, as part of a four-point plan to speed up the expansion of wind power.

Sweden to stop local governments blocking wind parks in final stages

“We are doing this to meet the increased need for electricity which is going to come as a result of our green industrial revolution,” Strandhäll said at a press conference. 

“It is important to strengthen Sweden by rapidly breaking our dependence on fossil fuels, building out our energy production and restructuring our industry. The Swedish people should not be dependent on countries like Russia to drive their cars or warm their homes.”

“We are going to make sure that municipalities who say “yes” to wind power get increased benefits,” she added in a press statement. “In addition, we are going to increase the speed with which wind power is built far offshore, which can generally neither be seen or heard from land.” 

While municipalities will retain a veto over wind power projects on their territory under the proposed new law, they will have to take their decision earlier in the planning process to prevent wind power developers wasting time and effort obtaining approvals only for the local government to block projects at the final stags. 

“For the local area, it’s mostly about making sure that those who feel that new wind parks noticeably affect their living environment also feel that they see positive impacts on their surroundings as a result of their establishment,” Strandhäll said.  “That might be a new sports field, an improved community hall, or other measures that might make live easier and better in places where wind power is established.” 

According to a report from the Swedish Energy Agency, about half of the wind projects planned since 2014 have managed to get approval. But in recent years opposition has been growing, with the opposition Moderate, Swedish Democrats, and Christian Democrat parties increasingly opposing projects at a municipal level. 

Municipalities frequently block wind park projects right at the end of the planning process following grassroots local campaigns. 

The government a month ago sent a committee report, or remiss, to the Council on Legislation, asking them to develop a law which will limit municipal vetoes to the early stages of the planning process. 

At the same time, the government is launching two inquiries. 

The first will look into what incentives could be given to municipalities to encourage them to allow wind farms on their land, which will deliver its recommendations at the end of March next year. In March, Strandhäll said that municipalities which approve wind farm projects should be given economic incentives to encourage them to accept projects on their land. 

The second will look into how to give the government more power over the approvals process for wind projects under Sweden’s environmental code. This will deliver its recommendations at the end of June next year.