Germany Will Halt 25% of Nuclear Capacity for Safety Review

Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel
Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel. Photographer: Michele Tantussi/Bloomberg

Germany will halt nuclear reactors accounting for 25 percent of its atomic energy capacity as part of a safety review after explosions at reactors in Japan.

The country will keep its seven oldest nuclear reactors offline as part of a nationwide safety review to run through June, Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters in Berlin today. Two of the seven are currently offline, while the remainder totals 5.2 gigawatts of the 20.7 gigawatts installed over Germany’s 17 reactors.

Germany, which relies on reactors for 23 percent of its power, is the first European country to take such measures after explosions at Japan’s Fukushima plant sparked safety concerns. German electricity, a European benchmark, rose on the outlook for lower supply while European Union carbon dioxide permits gained as utilities may burn more fossil fuels to meet demand.

“A general re-think on nuclear power is on the cards,” UniCredit SpA analysts including Lueder Schumacher wrote in a note today. The Japanese incident has “country-specific aspects that are unlikely to apply to Europe, but the nuclear debate, especially in Germany, is not governed by reason.”

The federal government and premiers of the German states where nuclear-power stations are located have agreed that facilities “that began operation before the end of 1980 are being stopped for the duration of the moratorium,” Merkel said after a meeting in Berlin today.

Prices Surge

The seven reactors are E.ON AG’s Isar 1 and Unterweser, RWE AG’s Biblis A and B, EnBW Energie Baden-Wuerttemberg AG’s Phlippsburg 1 and Neckarwestheim 1 as well as Brunsbuettel, which is co-owned by E.ON and Vattenfall AB. Biblis B is already offline for maintenance, while Brunsbuettel has been shut since June 2007 following a short circuit in a nearby power network.

E.ON has begun preparations to halt Isar-1, the Dusseldorf-based company said. EnBW said it will voluntarily shut down Neckarwestheim 1 on a temporary basis. RWE said it will halt Biblis A. The companies commented in separate e-mailed statements today.

Baseload electricity for next quarter in Germany rose to the highest price since November 2008, surging as much as 16 percent to 62.50 euros ($86.80) a megawatt-hour. The next-year contract, a European benchmark, rose as much as 4.8 percent to 58.40 euros a megawatt-hour, its highest since October 2009.

European Union carbon dioxide allowances rose to the highest intraday price since May 2009. Permits for December rose 4.3 percent to 17.32 euros a metric ton on the ICE Futures Europe exchange as of 1:41 p.m. Frankfurt time today.

Nuclear-Free Europe?

Germany’s move raises the prospect of a nuclear-free Europe, said Guenther Oettinger, the European Union energy commissioner, in an interview with ARD television today.

“It has to raise the question of whether we in Europe, in the foreseeable future, can secure our energy needs without nuclear power,” he said before a meeting with European energy ministers, company executives and regulators in Brussels to discuss reactor safety.

Merkel faces March 27 elections in Baden-Wuerttemberg, a state that’s home to four of the country’s 17 reactors and has been controlled by her Christian Democratic Union for five decades. Eighty percent of Germans oppose Merkel’s decision last year to extend the use of nuclear power by an average of 12 years past the previous phase-out date of about 2022, according to an Infratest poll for ARD television released late yesterday.

The chancellor said the government will use the three-month moratorium on the extension of the life of German nuclear plants, which she announced yesterday, to review whether the country can speed up the introduction of renewable energy.

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