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Revived German movement protests nuclear energy

Chancellor Angela Merkel's support for nuclear power has sparked demonstrations.

Polls show that two-thirds of Germans support the current phase-out law and a broad spectrum of German society still sympathizes with the anti-nuclear movement. A pre-election march in Berlin that attracted tens of thousands to the capital attested to that support. The rally provided diverse tableaus of university students together with civil servants, grey-haired former hippies aside middle-aged farmers atop tractors. They all share memories of the nuclear accidents at Chernobyl and Three Mile Island and the repeated Cold War warnings that the world may end in a nuclear apocalypse, as well as of more recent revelations that the German government under Chancellor Helmut Kohl had manipulated and falsified safety reports of a few of the country’s nuclear plants.

Indeed, Merkel is aware that following through on her plans will require making a hefty withdrawal from the sizable sum of political capital that she’s accumulated over the past four years. During the election campaign, her CDU party tried to prime the country by arguing that Germany couldn’t yet afford to make the switch away from nuclear power, which comprises nearly a quarter of the country’s energy consumption, according to a report by the German Institute for Economic Research.

While the rival SPD asserted that investments in renewable solar and wind power could make up the difference, Merkel said that Germany shouldn’t risk falling behind the economies of France and Britain, both of which have renewed commitments to nuclear energy. She has also argued that nuclear energy produces fewer climate-damaging emissions than coal, Germany’s main fuel alternative.

However convinced she is of the merits of nuclear energy, Merkel has also made sure to temper the plans of the more business-friendly and conservative voices in her new coalition. The coalition agreement emphasizes that keeping the 17 power plants open will be contingent upon their meeting the most stringent safety criteria of the European Union. The new coalition will also demand that a large percentage of the windfall profits that energy companies are expected to make from the continued operation of the nuclear plants be invested into renewable energy sources. “Nuclear energy should be a bridge technology,” said Marcus Soeder, one of Merkel’s representatives at the coalition negotiations.

The activists don’t seem much impressed by Merkel’s assurances. After meeting last month, representatives from the largest groups promised more unannounced demonstrations to block the transport of nuclear material and to otherwise disrupt the work of Merkel's new coalition.