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Where does the nuclear exit lead to?

Will Germany really phase out nuclear power by 2022 at the latest? Angela Merkel’s decision has been welcomed by the opponents of nuclear energy but raises a host of questions for the future, writes the German press.

Published on 31 May 2011 at 14:41

Overnight, between Sunday and Monday morning, the German government decided that the country will phase out nuclear power by 2022 at the latest. For now, seven out of 17 stations will remain closed, while the rest will gradually be shut down within the next ten years and be replaced by alternative energies, whose development the country now must push ahead with.

It’s a festive day for the anti-nuclear press, or just about. In Berlin, the Tageszeitung resurrects on its front page the mythical sticker from the start of the anti-nuclear movement in Germany, decorated with its new heroine: Chancellor Angela Merkel. But the fight is not over yet, adds the alternative daily:

Only six months ago, after Merkel scrapped the older plans to phase out nuclear power, the Germany plants were to remain in service beyond 2030. Today, half of them have been unplugged from the network. [...] Unlike the planned exit from nuclear power in 2000 decided on by the red-green coalition [under Gerhard Schröder], there is no longer any opposition that would reverse this decision[...]. At last, the turning point in energy can enter a new phase and become irreversible between now and 2020. Now that the end of nuclear power has been ruled on, we must get rid of coal too – and we need a plan to reduce consumption of oil and gas.

In Munich, the Süddeutsche Zeitung tries to forestall the critics.

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It is time to see the end of nuclear power as an opportunity and not just as a privation, as a poison for industry, or as a bizarre and cavalier act in the midst of a global economy running on nuclear power. Getting out [of nuclear power] offers tremendous opportunities if it is grasped as a re-tooling, as an entry into the solar age that can be potentially rewarding economically. If we approach it the right way, Germany will be the vanguard of a tipping point that every nation on earth will have to get to as well, because of the limitations of the planet. A tipping point that not only sees the end of the nuclear plants in Germany, but the end of fossil fuels altogether.

The plan deserves the adjective "ambitious," writes the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, a word that also allows some room to display its scepticism over a move it calls “open-heart surgery” on the German economy “with no regard for complications or side-effects”. The Frankfurt daily notes that the decision will cost the German state two billion euros every year and that it "will have to answer the question of where the alternative electricity will come from, and if it can be produced safely and reliably". "Who cannot guarantee this is behaving negligently in shutting down the power plants", declares FAZ, which points out the many unknowns in the next ten years and the efforts that will have to be made to restructure the German energy network. The upshot: it is primarily the consumer who will foot the bill. “Getting out of nuclear energy is not free, and everyone will have to pay the price."

That such a decision was taken in haste, driven by the emotions of the Fukushima disaster and despite the promises to voters, makes Die Welt furious. The Berlin daily is calling for resistance against this “anti-democratic solo”, not just in Germany but in Europe as well:

For Die Welt:

"Germany is going it alone – an avant-garde role that assumes a high moral posture and meets with zero enthusiasm beyond Germany’s borders. The concept of sustainable development includes not letting it be hustled forward by the excitement of the moment; one takes one’s time; one understands that just saying no to nuclear power is no response to the complex issues regarding future energy sources. We are witnessing the birth of an unholy alliance between those who want to govern with the fist and those who aspire to ousting Parliament and beating down public opinion under an environmentalist pressure that takes the high moral road. Our country cannot accept that."

French Reaction

Merkel buries the Europe built on energy

"Who recalls that Europe was built around energy?That it was originally the European Coal and Steel Community?That this symbol was the original heart of a rising power, uniting in a common promise the two greatest belligerents of past centuries?” asks columnist Yves Harté inSud-Ouest, the Bordeaux daily, following the announcement that Germany would shut down its nuclear plants by 2022.

“It was, it is true, the era of another utopia. [...] Energy in common?This was the future!There is a certain irony in seeing Germany today break so sharply with nuclear power without any consultation. [...]

In nuclear energy, the global leader is France.Germany lags behind.Angela Merkel has concluded that it is better to engage in another sphere and to explore other markets, including renewable energies.There, the future belongs to Germany.One will tuck away the fact that in the meantime Germany will consume more coal and will generate even more CO2, which reached record levels last year.One will neglect to mention that the country will import more Russian gas and – nuclear power from France.But who will report that this decision, radical and energetic, will break up the foundation on which the European Union originally was built, the Europe that pooled the energies of that era, coal and steel?

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