Hamburg, Germany (UPI) Apr 26, 2010
Around 120,000 Germans formed a 75-mile human chain to protest the government's plan to extend the lifeline of the country's nuclear power reactors.
The peaceful demonstrators Saturday linked arms in a chain that stretched from the northern towns of Brunsbuettel through Hamburg to Kruemmel, the location of two nuclear power plants.
"Today will spark a countrywide chain reaction of protests and resistance if the government does not reverse its atomic policy," organizers of the demonstration said in a statement.
Berlin said this year it is mulling extending the lifetime of Germany's youngest reactors by several years, vowing to scrap the nuclear phase-out plan that foresees to shut down all 17 reactors by 2021.
This has sparked significant opposition with political and public players.
The human chain included two former environment ministers -- Sigmar Gabriel from the Social Democrats and Juergen Trittin from the Green Party -- who had met near the demonstration site to discuss anti-nuclear policies.
That their call to protest drew so many people underlines the strong opposition to nuclear power in the German public, observers say.
"This was a mobilization like we haven't seen one since the 1980s," Dieter Rucht, who analyzes political protest movements at Berlin's Free University, told Monday's Berliner Zeitung newspaper.
When German Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union was re-elected in a team with the free-market Free Democratic Party in September, it was widely believed that nuclear energy would get a quick boost.
Both parties campaigned in favor of nuclear power, arguing that nuclear provides secure, relatively cheap carbon dioxide-free power and should remain in the mix until renewables are ready to take over.
After the parties were elected in a coalition, they were expected to reverse the planned phase-out of the controversial energy source. Decisions haven't been made yet, however; Berlin has vowed to publish a new energy strategy by October and, until then, it will likely remain unsure which of the 17 remaining reactors will be saved from closure.
Environment Minister Norbert Roettgen has previously questioned this plan, pointing to the fact that nuclear power is so unpopular with ordinary Germans and that the reactors should be shut down as soon as renewables can take over.
The second government party, the pro-business Free Democrats, want nuclear in the mix because they say electricity prices would go through the roof without it.
Observers say nuclear only has a future if the utilities agree to put the major part of the extra revenues from the longer running times into a fund aimed at boosting renewable energy sources and nuclear safety research.
Germany's utilities are wary of the delay, not knowing where and when to invest.
They have recently been focusing on Britain's emerging nuclear market. Eon and RWE have decided to team up to build nuclear power plants there, promising to invest around $25 billion in the endeavor.
Duesseldorf's Eon is one of the major public utilities in Europe and the world's largest private energy company. It employs more than 90,000 people. Essen's RWE employs 65,000 people and is Germany's second-largest energy company.
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