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Last Updated: Friday, 21 October 2005, 07:52 GMT 08:52 UK
Viewpoint: German nuclear phase-out
Outgoing German environment minister Jurgen Trittin
Mr Trittin: "Renewable energies are essential"
Outgoing German environment minister Jurgen Trittin played a key role in the country's decision to shut down all its nuclear reactors by 2020.

Although the new Chancellor Angela Merkel's CDU party wanted to extend the closure deadline, outgoing Chancellor's Gerhard Schroeder's SPD party have retained the environment ministry in coalition negotiations and say they do not intend to review the policy.

As Britain gears up for a debate on the future of its nuclear industry, Mr Trittin, a member of Germany's Green Party, explains to the BBC News website why he believes his country should consign atomic energy to the past.

Wind turbines in Germany
Germany has invested heavily in renewable energy
We want to follow a path towards a sustainable energy supply, for the protection of the global climate, the conservation of finite resources and for the sake of future generations.

We want to make even greater energy savings, increase energy efficiency even further and expand the use of renewable energies. In Germany this is known as the 'Energiewende' - the transformation of our energy system.

'No wiser'

Nuclear power is not needed to achieve this. Quite the contrary: technically speaking, this base-load relic of the past is standing in the way of flexible and intelligent electricity production.

In contrast to Germany, Finland has commissioned Europe's first new reactor in a decade. MP Mikko Elo supports the decision.

The safety risks associated with nuclear power have in no way decreased in recent years - in particular with regard to the threat of terrorism, they have in fact increased dramatically.

And as far as the long-term management of radioactive wastes is concerned, we are fundamentally no wiser than we were 30 years ago.

The use of nuclear power is and will remain a global risk, especially for future generations.

Who can today presume to say, or even begin to imagine, what the world will be like in 24,000 years?

This is the half-life period of plutonium-239, which is generated in huge volumes during nuclear fission.

However, what we do know today is that 24,000 years ago Olkiluoto [where Finland is building a new reactor], for example, was buried under around 3,000m of ice.

48.9% - coal and lignite
27.5% - nuclear
10.2% - natural gas
4.5% hydro
4.1% - wind
1.6% - oil and diesel
3.2% - other (solar, biomass, waste)
Source: Statistisches Bundesamt
In contrast, renewable energies are essential to solving pressing issues for the future.

With the further rapid expansion of wind and hydropower, solar power, the use of biomass and geothermal power - we can create an alternative to a nuclear and fossil fuel energy supply in a step-by-step process.

Progress on renewables

We have already made good progress. In 2004, 9.8% of electricity in Germany came from renewable sources.

Ten years ago, the figure was not even half this. And this trend is set to continue. Our goal in Germany is to provide at least 20% of electricity from renewable energies in the year 2020.

And by the middle of the century, we want to cover about 50% of our total energy consumption with renewable sources.

Biblis nuclear power station, Germany
The last nuclear power station is scheduled to close in 2020
The expansion of renewable energies is ecologically beneficial and economically viable. In Germany, a strong and rapidly growing sector has developed around renewables.

Today, renewables contribute over 6% of the total energy consumption - a figure that will increase - while the 5.7% share of nuclear power lies below this and continues to decrease.

Revenues totalled around 11.6 billion euros (7.9bn) in 2004 - for both the setting up and the operation of installations. That is more than in the pharmaceutical industry, for example.

This is creating jobs. There are already around 150,000 jobs in the renewables sector.

New opportunities are opening up - not only for solar engineers and steel workers for the construction of wind power plants, but also indirectly in delivery companies, commercial agencies, advertising, planning offices, in the financial services sector and in research and development.

And in contrast to jobs in the fossil fuels energy supply sector, jobs in the renewables sector have the great advantage of being based on innovation, supply security and ecological compatibility.

Renewables energies create future-oriented jobs.

Cleaner air

Renewables protect the environment. The use of these energies enabled a saving of around 70 million tonnes of CO2 in Germany last year.

This is much more than the Kyoto commitments of many countries. And they are also helping to keep the air in Germany clean.

Less combustion of fossil fuels also means a reduction in the emission of air pollutants that contribute to acidification and eutrophication and that damage human health.

Surveys show that both the increased use of renewable energies and the phase-out of nuclear power are supported by a broad majority of the population.

All this shows that we are on the right track with the expansion of renewables. We will reach our Kyoto targets without having to become further entangled in the risks and burdens of nuclear power.

We are convinced that Germany has chosen the right energy policy path.


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