Plug finally pulled on old German reactors

FRANKFURT Fri Jun 17, 2011 6:57am EDT

Anti-nuclear protestors drive past a nuclear power plant during a demonstration in Biblis near Frankfurt April 25, 2011. REUTERS/Ralph Orlowski

Anti-nuclear protestors drive past a nuclear power plant during a demonstration in Biblis near Frankfurt April 25, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Ralph Orlowski

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FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Friday marked the point of no return for the permanent shutdown of a major slice of Germany's nuclear energy, leaving a range of unresolved problems caused by the politically-driven reaction to the Fukushima crisis.

Germany's biggest utility RWE, the last to fall in line, left it until the day before Friday's deadline to pass on any chance to reopen its Biblis B reactor.

Avoiding a potentially image-damaging clash with government, RWE joined competitors E.ON, EnBW and Vattenfall Europe which already have said their old reactors will stay shut.

The aging nuclear capacity was shut in March following the Japan crisis, for an initial three months, now expired.

In theory, RWE could have tried to restart Biblis B for at least three weeks to cash in on earnings that analysts agree can be up to 500,000 euros ($708,100) a day at written-off plants.

"(By not reconnecting) we are also complying with the requests of politicians, no longer to use the plants which were closed during the moratorium to generate power," the Essen group said in a statement.

Berlin is preparing a law change, aiming for July 8, to back the immediate closure of 8,800 MW, or 41 percent of Germany's total nuclear capacity, as of June 17/18, and to shut the remainder by 2022.

"The quick exit from much capacity illustrates how much political and societal motives are at play," said Christine Schweikert, an economist at Frankfurt's BHF Bank.

"The decision causes a number of lasting and difficult challenges in the arenas of supply security, price competitiveness and environmental compatibility."

HEADACHES AND WRANGLING

The nuclear phase-out and the wider overall strategy shift to move toward more renewable energy poses many headaches for policymakers, fiscal planners and power suppliers.

Seven laws backed by the cabinet on June 6 must pass both houses of parliament -- no mean feat.

Germany's upper house of parliament, representing states, on Friday clashed with the federal government over who steers network expansion, who pays how much for incentives to speed energy efficiency and savings, and how much subsidy renewables will get.

Utilities have said they will try and claw back billions of euros in financial damages from the June 6 plans for phased-in closure over the next decade. That superseded an extension to the lifespans of the reactors which was granted last autumn.

E.ON is determined to seek compensation for both the phased-in closure and also a nuclear fuel tax the government plans to continue levying, even though the tax was only proposed in the context of the life extensions.

Board member Joergen Kildahl told Reuters Insider TV the company is seeking redress as the moratorium has ended.

"We are in a situation where the value of our assets has been decreased by what the government has decided to do and it is in our shareholders' interest to pursue this legally," he said.

He said the government made the wrong decision.

The European power market has responded to the loss of German capacity with a 12 percent price increase in the benchmark delivery contract for power next year, Cal '12, to 60 euros/MWh.

French and Czech imports and German solar power have offset the lost capacity, helped by good spring weather, but grid operators worry about heatwaves in summer and cold spells in winter, when demand booms and some renewables output is low.

European grid group ENTSO-E in a forecast said it was worried by possible restraints on load flows. Germany's network regulator has said that energy intensive factories might even have to shut temporarily.

(Editing by William Hardy)

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