German FDP says may not extend nuclear plants' lives

BERLIN, Oct 3 (Reuters) - A senior figure in Germany’s Free Democrats has threatened to drop plans to extend the lives of national nuclear plants if power companies take issue with conditions the next government attaches to such extensions.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives are due to start coalition talks with the business-friendly Free Democrats (FDP) on Monday and energy policy will be a key issue for negotiation.

The two groups have said they will look to extend the lives of Germany’s 17 nuclear plants, which an existing plan envisages phasing out by 2021 at the latest.

But FDP deputy chairman Andreas Pinkwart said there might not be a blanket extension of the nuclear plants' lives -- an outcome that Juergen Grossmann, chief executive of utility RWE RWEG.DE, has pushed for.

“If the electricity companies baulk at our conditions, the existing phase-out law will remain,” Pinkwart told Der Spiegel magazine in an interview released on Saturday.

Each nuclear plant must be examined individually and an overall solution should be reached that promotes both “green” electricity and competition, Pinkwart said, adding that some reactors could be decommissioned sooner than previously planned.

Der Spiegel added that Merkel was anxious to avoid giving the impression of pursuing a strong, pro-nuclear policy.

The chancellery wanted a review of the need for nuclear energy and the potential for developing renewable power sources to be conducted before extensions of the nuclear plants’ lives are negotiated, the magazine added.

Nuclear operator E.ON's EONG.DE chief executive, Wulf Bernotat, has indicated he is prepared to offer something in exchange for longer life cycles.

The president of the BDI industry association, Hans-Peter Keitel, pressed for longer nuclear plant lives to keep down electricity prices.

“We shouldn’t subsidise each photovoltaic cell but rather provide for competitive energy prices,” he told the Tagesspiegel daily in an interview to run in its Monday edition.

Separately, Baden Wuerttemberg’s environment minister Tanja Goenner, tipped to become federal environment minister, told Focus magazine Gorleben in Lower Saxony should be explored further as a potential final storage site for nuclear waste. (Additional reporting by Vera Eckert in Frankfurt) (Writing by Paul Carrel; Editing by Ron Askew)