Germany backs closure of nuclear power plants

GERMANY'S lower house of parliament has overwhelmingly approved an exit from nuclear energy by 2022, setting the seal on a policy U-turn by Chancellor Angela Merkel driven by Japan's Fukushima disaster.

Opposition deputies from the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) and Green Party joined MPs in Ms Merkel's centre-right coalition yesterday in supporting the key measure in an energy reform bill in its third and final reading.

Calling it Ms Merkel's "Waterloo", the SPD and Greens said the nuclear phase-out vindicated their opposition to nuclear power in Germany.

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But German industry and the country's neighbours fear the chancellor's change of heart on nuclear plants - last year she advocated keeping them open longer - could raise energy costs and imperil the power supply in Europe's biggest economy.

The Bundesrat (upper house) debate on the package on 8 July will be a formality as the chamber representing Germany's states could block the package only with a two-thirds majority - not likely in a house where Ms Merkel is only marginally outnumbered.

The government, struggling to hit tough mid-term targets for reducing greenhouse gases, faces accusations from the renewable energy lobby that it has missed a chance to promote growth of wind and solar power more aggressively.

European Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger, speaking to a conference in Berlin, said Germany's neighbours were worried about its programme of nuclear shutdowns by 2022.

He said closing of eight of Germany's 17 nuclear plants in March had already reduced the total European power supply by 2 to 3 per cent, "which was manageable; the headlines were bigger than the cut".

But he urged Berlin to co- ordinate the nuclear exit with its European Union partners to ensure stable power supplies and stop costs from rising.