German Chancellor Angela Merkel is backtracking on nuclear power as the atomic emergency in Japan becomes an issue in state-election campaigns. Merkel’s decision to halt seven of Germany’s 17 reactors includes two in Baden-Wuerttemberg, where her party is battling to retain its 59-year-hold on the state in a March 27 vote.
Polls indicate a neck-and-neck race between the local Christian Democrat Union-led coalition and opposition parties including the anti-nuclear Greens.
“The events in Japan spell trouble” for Merkel, Oscar Gabriel, a political scientist at the University of Stuttgart, said. “Voters identify competence on nuclear safety with the Greens, not the CDU. So the Greens may well gain points among the voters.”
Underscoring the CDU challenge, the state government in Stuttgart agreed to buy Electricite de France SA’s 45% stake in EnBW Energie Baden-Wuerttemberg AG, Germany’s third- largest utility, for 4.7 billion Euros last year. EnBW operates the four nuclear power plants in the state.
Merkel’s nuclear-power predicament came just after scoring a victory in Brussels, winning support from key allies for a retooled plan to fight the Euro-region debt crisis.
She campaigned in 2009 promising to extend the use of nuclear power, upending a phase-out enacted under her Social Democrat predecessor, Gerhard Schroeder. Last year, Merkel pushed through a law extending the running time of nuclear plants by an average of 12 years past the limit of about 2022. Germany gets 23% of its power from nuclear plants.
Stefan Mappus, the Baden-Wuerttemberg premier and a Merkel ally, backed the extension, which is opposed by 80% nationwide, according to an Infratest poll for ARD television released yesterday.
Merkel has delivered the strongest European response to the aftermath of Japan’s worst earthquake on record. Monday’s suspension came a day after she put the extended use of nuclear power on hold for three months for a safety review.
Her party lost elections in Hamburg on Feb. 20 and faces six more state ballots, including Baden-Wuerttemberg, this year.