- The Washington Times - Monday, July 9, 2007

BERLIN — Chancellor Angela Merkel, in a major policy reversal, is preparing to scrap Germany’s plans to abandon nuclear-power plants.

The move would bring Berlin in line with many of its European neighbors, which are investing heavily in new and existing sources of atomic energy. But it puts Mrs. Merkel on a collision course with the country’s powerful green lobby and her coalition partners.

The chancellor’s dramatic change of heart surfaced at an energy summit in Berlin last week, when it became clear that her ruling grand coalition’s aim of closing Germany’s 17 nuclear-power plants by the early 2020s would hamper efforts to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions.

A government-commissioned study made public at the summit showed that Mrs. Merkel’s targets were not feasible without nuclear power.

Germany’s first female leader is passionately concerned about climate change, and her decision to ditch her coalition’s anti-nuclear policies stems from her own plans to protect the environment.

“We cannot just continue as if it’s business as usual,” she said last week in defense of her climate-control agenda.

However, the shift will bring her into direct conflict with the influential green lobby, which pioneered environmental politics in Europe in the 1970s. It could also strain relations with her coalition partners, the Social Democrats, who favor sticking to the original policy. The issue could dominate the next general election, set for 2009.

Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel, a Social Democrat, remains adamant that his party’s commitment to abandoning nuclear power should not be undermined.

“The plan to finish with nuclear power will go ahead,” he said.

There is also opposition from conservatives within Mrs. Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party. Klaus Toepfer, a leading conservative who until last year headed the United Nations Environment Program, said, “We need a future without nuclear power, and we must do everything to develop renewable energy sources and increase energy efficiency to achieve this.”

During her recent tenure as European Commission president, Mrs. Merkel set the target of a 20 percent reduction of carbon-dioxide emissions with the European Union by 2020. For Germany, she set a 40 percent target.

The new study showed that Germany would need to maintain its use of nuclear power if it is to hit those targets.

Germany is already surrounded by neighbors whose commitment to nuclear power is growing. With 59 reactors, France is the European Union”s leading nuclear energy supplier, and Finland and Britain have announced plans to extend their use of the atomic energy.

The new Eastern European members have also embarked on ambitious atomic-energy projects, which involve replacing outdated and potentially dangerous Soviet-built react-ors.

Sweden and Belgium are the only other EU member states with plans to phase out nuclear power.