* Parliament votes on nuclear exit, renewable
* Europe worried about cost, security of German power
* Merkel's nuclear U-turn inspired by Fukushima crisis
By Stephen Brown and Vera Eckert
BERLIN, June 30 Germany's parliament looked set
on Thursday to approve an exit from nuclear energy by 2022, a
U-turn by Chancellor Angela Merkel driven by Japan's Fukushima
crisis and described by anti-nuclear opponents as a victory.
Calling it Merkel's "Waterloo", the centre-left Social
Democrats (SPD) and Greens said the nuclear phase-out vindicated
three decades of bitter opposition to nuclear power in Germany.
But German industry and Germany's neighbours fear the
chancellor's change of heart on nuclear plants -- late last year
she called them safe and advocated keeping them open longer --
could imperil the power supply in Europe's biggest economy.
European Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger, speaking to
a conference in Berlin as the Bundestag (lower house) debated a
package of power laws nearby, said Germany's neighbours were
worried about its programme of nuclear shutdowns by 2022.
He said closing the oldest eight of Germany's 17 nuclear
plants after a tsunami hit Japan's Fukushima plant in March had
already reduced the total European power supply by 2-3 percent,
"which was manageable; the headlines were bigger than the cut".
But he added: "Europe must do what it can so the process of
creeping de-industrialisation does not proceed." He urged Berlin
to coordinate the nuclear exit with its European Union partners
to ensure stable power supplies and stop costs from rising.
Merkel, a conservative with one eye on her own coalition's
declining popularity and growing support for the Greens, has
dismissed such worries, telling pro-nuclear neighbour France
that Germany can get its power via renewable technology.
"This is more than consensus for a nuclear exit, this is
consensus for a switch to renewable energy," she told the
Bundestag, which was due to vote on a package of eight laws
after the debate ends at around noon local time (1000 GMT).
"We want to remain an industrial nation and sustain growth.
But we want to organise that growth so that we guarantee quality
of life for coming generations as well," she said, adding that
solar, wind and biofuel technology would provide the key.
OPPOSITION CLAIMS WIN
The opposition pushed through its own anti-nuclear power law
when in government in 2002, but that was halted by Merkel last
year -- until events in Japan "shocked" her, in her own words.
The main opposition SPD and Greens will only approve the
nuclear exit law as the rest of the package does not go far or
fast enough towards renewable energy and away from nuclear and
carbon fuels for their liking.
But Merkel can push the rest of the energy reform laws with
her own majority in the Bundestag.
The upper house (Bundesrat) debate on the package on July 10
will be a formality as the chamber representing Germany's states
could only block the package with a two-thirds majority -- not
likely in a house where Merkel is only marginally outnumbered.
SPD leader Sigmar Gabriel, ridiculing Merkel's U-turn, told
her in the Bundestag: "Today is nothing less than your Waterloo
and your nuclear exit law is our nuclear exit law."
He said Merkel returned to power for a second term in 2009
with her Free Democrat (FDP) junior coalition partners "with
only two projects in mind -- extending the lifespan of nuclear
plants, and cutting taxes. You have achieved neither."
Renate Kuenast, parliamentary leader of the Greens, told
Merkel: "I don't care if you have done it for electoral reasons
or out of conviction. The historic irony is enough for me.
"I want to thank to all those people who, for the last 30
years, have had the courage to protest against nuclear power
even when they were treated like criminals and fired on with
water cannons," said Kuenast.
Rainer Bruederle, the FDP parliamentary leader and former
economy minister, said Germany would have to halve the nine or
10 years now expected to build the 4,000 km of new power lines
needed to handle the switch to alternative energy sources.
Germany got almost a fifth of its total power requirements
from renewable sources in the quarter of 2011, said the energy
association BDEW, estimating that between 8-17 gigawatts of new
capacity -- mostly gas and coal-based -- will have to be built
over the next decade to counter the volatility of green power
and to make up for lost nuclear capacity.
The head of energy agency Dena warned in an interview that
failure to connect new power capacity near demand centres or
near transport grids or storage facilities would waste assets or
put at risk the grids' stability.
(Writing by Stephen Brown; editing by John Stonestreet and