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« Possible setback for U.S. nuclear industry | Main | Japan Issues Emergency at Nuclear Plant »

Green Protests to Add to Merkel’s Problems

Angela Merkel.JPG

BERLIN—The radiation threat from damaged Japanese nuclear power plants after a devastating earth quake has added to Chancellor Angela Merkel's domestic troubles ahead of three important regional elections this month.

Opposition parties are challenging her government's support of nuclear power, a rancorous debate that has rarely been far from the center of German politics for decades. Reports of possible radioactive leaks in Japan revived concerns here over the weekend.

Protest organizers said some 60,000 people demonstrated against nuclear power Saturday in the Southern German state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, where March 27 elections could topple her Christian Democratic Union party from office after decades of governing. The state, home toDaimler-Benz AG and BASF AG, the big chemicals group, has four of Germany's 17 nuclear reactors.

The state is one of Germany's richest and most populous, and a win there would further strengthen the opposition's hold of the Bundesrat, Germany's upper chamber that represents the country's states and has to approve legislation touching upon taxes.

Losing Baden-Wuertemberg would be "the beginning of the end of Ms. Merkel's Chancellorship," opposition Green Party parliamentary leader Juergen Trittin told Der Spiegel magazine Saturday.
Japan's fresh lesson on risks linked to reactors comes as Ms. Merkel prepares to defend against criticism from her own party that she gave away too much when agreeing to a European Union pact to reform EU governance and competitiveness. Her government has been under fire since agreeing to put German taxpayers behind a Greek bailout last May.

To reach this deal, Ms. Merkel compromised on previous conditions that member states become more economically competitive. She also agreed to allow the European Financial Stability Facility, the euro-zone rescue fund, to buy bonds directly from troubled member states—a measure highly disputed even among her own Christian Democrats.

Frank Schaeffler, a finance expert in parliament for the Free Democrats, Merkel's junior coalition partner, told the Handelsblatt newspaper Sunday it is a grave error if the EFSF were to be allowed to buy "junk bonds" from troubled euro-zone members. Germany's parliament won't have a binding say on the issue of bond purchases, but it does need to approve extended German guarantees for the EFSF which are also part of the deal.

"A majority in the Bundestag [parliament] isn't assured," he warned.
The news from Japan possibly poses an even greater threat to Ms. Merkel's domestic standing.
The CDU-led coalition government last year decided to allow nuclear power stations to operate 12 years longer on average than previously planned. That reversed a decision by a Social Democratic Party-led government a decade earlier to switch off Germany's last nuclear reactor in 2022.

The nuclear life span extension harmed government parties temporarily last year in opinion polls, a situation that Merkel could face again now.

Sigmar Gabriel, the leader of the main opposition, the Social Democrats, in an interview to Deutschlandfunk radio, said Germany's oldest nuclear power station needs to be switched off immediately. "And of course, the government needs to take back the law on the (nuclear) life-span extension," Mr. Gabriel said.

Ms. Merkel called a crisis meeting with key ministers Saturday, saying afterwards she will ask all German states that have nuclear facilities to double check safety standard.

"On the question of safety, there can't and won't be any compromise," Ms. Merkel said, but added that it is too early to tell whether the accident will have consequences for Germany's nuclear policy.

Environment Minister Norbert Roettgen acknowledged in an interview to the ARD broadcaster Saturday that the Japanese accident and its possible aftermath cast doubt on whether nuclear energy can be controlled.


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Reader Comments (1)

Merkel claims that Germany does not face such a serious earthquake or tidal wave threat. However, the incident in Japan let the whole world see how dangerous nuclear power plants could be if they were out of human control. I guess the neighbouring countries are not happy about her government’s support of nuclear power as well.

March 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterElli Davis

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