Vattenfall CEO sees nuclear issue moving in Germany

BERLIN Wed Jan 14, 2009 12:10pm GMT

BERLIN Jan 14 (Reuters) - The issues of climate change and energy security will play an increasingly important role in a German debate on whether to extend nuclear power beyond 2021, Vattenfall chief executive Lars Josefsson said on Wednesday.

At a news conference announcing the appointment of former International Energy Agency head Hans Blix to Vattenfall's nuclear safety council, Josefsson said the debate about nuclear power in other countries had advanced further than in Germany.

The chief executive of the Swedish parent company spoke in Germany where its Vattenfall Europe subsidiary provides power to northern and eastern parts of the country. He noted Poland and others plan to expand nuclear power use.

"The discussion in Germany will continue," Josefsson said. "There are two important components of the discussion: the climate change problem and, secondly, energy security. These two issues will push the discussion forward in Germany."

Nuclear supplies just under 30 percent of Germany's power needs with about half coming from coal and a small but growing share from renewable energy. So far the government is sticking to a 2001 law to phase out nuclear reactors by 2021.

Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats want to extend the use of nuclear power and have the backing of German industry, which is worried about future energy supplies. But the Social Democrat coalition partners oppose any change in the law.

"The issue of extending nuclear power use in Germany is a political question," Josefsson said.

He added: "In Germany it is not possible to build new nuclear power plants at the moment. Which energy sources Germany uses in the future is a question for the Germans to decide.

"As a company with international operations, we're seeing that many countries are putting together plans to build new nuclear power plants. Poland, for example, wants to build new nuclear power plants.

"We're saying 'we're ready and have the know-how," he said. "In the battle against climate change, we believe nuclear power is indispensable. If Germany comes to a different conclusion, that's okay for Vattenfall. We live in a dynamic world."

Josefsson said Vattenfall as a group aims to provide climate-neutral power by 2050 at the latest, up from about 50 percent CO2-free energy production currently.

He said the 2050 target will be met with three sources: renewables, carbon capture and storage (CCS) coal, and nuclear.

"Our goal is only achievable with all three," he said. The Nordic countries naturally have a large share of hydropower.

On Tuesday, Poland's Prime Minister Donald Tusk said Poland's top utility will oversee construction of up to two nuclear plants as part of a wider push for diversification.

Separately, Vattenfall Europe AG chief executive Tuomo Hatakka said he could not say how long Germany's Kruemmel and Brunsbuettel nuclear plants would remain offline.

Both have been grounded for repairs and checks since a fire in 2007, which triggered short circuits.

This has caused embarassment for Vattenfall but has also allowed the operator to wait out if Germany's anti-nuclear laws are reviewed should there be a change of government in 2010.