Germany pushes to extend lifespan of three nuclear plants -letter

An aerial view shows the cooling tower of Emsland nuclear power plant and in rear the cooling towers of Emsland natural gas power plants of German utility RWE, amid the energy crisis caused by Russia's invasion of Ukraine, on the outskirts of Lingen, Germany, October, 12, 2022. REUTERS/Stephane Nitschke
  • Germany's Scholz orders law for nuclear power extension
  • Three power plants provide 6% of electricity production
  • All three plants to put on reserve until mid-April 2023
  • RWE, E.ON welcome chancellor decision, EnBW calls for more clarity

BERLIN, Oct 17 (Reuters) - German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has asked the economy, environment and finance ministries to lay the legal framework to keep the country's three nuclear power plants operational until as late as April 15, 2023, a letter seen by Reuters showed on Monday.

Germany had planned to complete a phase-out of nuclear power by the end of this year, but a collapse in energy supplies from Russia because of the war in Ukraine has prompted the government to keep two plants on standby.

Lengthy disagreements within the ruling coalition government over the merits and drawbacks of nuclear energy delayed the implementation of a draft law to put the two plants on reserve beyond their planned phase-out at the end of this year.

As well as the Isar II and Neckarwestheim II plants already included in the draft law, Finance Minister Christian Lindner has been pushing to keep a third plant, Emsland, operational, which Economy Minister Robert Habeck - whose Green Party is historically anti-nuclear - agreed to.

The three plants have 4,300 megawatts (MW) of power capacity, contributing 6% to Germany's electricity production this year.

"I would ask that the relevant proposed regulations be presented to the cabinet as soon as possible as part of the distribution of responsibilities," Scholz wrote in the letter dated on Monday.

Scholz also requested that the ministries present an "ambitious" law to increase energy efficiency, and put into law an agreement to phase out coal by 2030.

Lindner welcomed the chancellor's request, saying the legal framework could be created immediately.

"It is in the vital interest of our country and its economy that we maintain all our energy production capacities this winter. The Chancellor has now created clarity," Lindner tweeted on Monday.

The economy ministry declined to comment, while parliamentary Greens group leaders said Scholz's decision to put on reserve the Emsland plant was "unfortunate and had no factual or technical reason."

"We will now discuss with our parliamentary group how to deal with the Chancellor's decision," Greens leaders Katharina Droege and Britta Hasselmann said in a statement.

Environment Minister Steffi Lemke said Monday's decision added clarity but reiterated that the nuclear phase-out would continue as there would be no lifetime extension beyond mid-April next year or new fuel rods.

RWE (RWEG.DE), which operates the Emsland power plant, welcomed the decision, saying it created clarity and planning security.

"We will now immediately make all the necessary preparations to enable power operation of the Emsland power plant until April 15th," a company spokesperson said.

E.ON (EONGn.DE), which run Isar II, reiterated its September position, supporting the lifespan extension.

EnBW (EBKG.DE) said it took note of the decision but needed more clarity as soon as possible, adding that it would have to shut down its Neckarwestheim II plant by year-end, unless the government created a legal framework.

Frankfurt-listed shares in E.ON , RWE and EnBW were all up between 1.2% and 2.2% at 1728 GMT.

Klaus Mueller, the head of the country's network agency, said Scholz's request was a "clever compromise".

Environmental Action Germany said the continued nuclear plants operation was unnecessary and dangerous, calling on the parliament to reject the chancellor's proposal.

"With his lonely decision, the Chancellor simply wants to have the aging reactors declared 'safe' by law," said the group's director Sascha Mueller-Kraenner.

Reporting by Andreas Rinke, Riham Alkousaa, Holger Hansen, Christian Kraemer, Christoph Steitz and Tom Kaeckenhoff; Writing by Riham Alkousaa Editing by Victoria Waldersee, Jan Harvey, Grant McCool and Tomasz Janowski

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