Merkel's nuclear panel convenes to evaluate German energy future
An ethical review board convened by Chancellor Angela Merkel met Monday to discuss the future of nuclear power in Germany, after the reactor disaster in Japan shocked the country, DPA reported.
"It is important to me that we have brought together a broad social spectrum in this committee," Merkel said.
The panel is headed by former environment minister Klaus Toepfer and includes leading figures from the fields of politics, science, industry and religious groups.
They have until late May to evaluate the risks associated with nuclear energy and the drawbacks of switching to alternative energy sources, such as the environmental impact of relying to a greater degree on coal.
Merkel announced a temporary shutdown of Germany's oldest plants and a three-month review period to run tests and reassess nuclear technology, days after Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant was damaged by a severe earthquake and tsunami.
It has since become likely that seven of Germany's 17 reactors will never resume activity.
The majority of Germans oppose nuclear energy, and their numbers have swelled since Japan's nuclear disaster on March 11.
The issue played a large role in state elections last month, when voters punished Merkel's centre-right coalition for last year's decision to extend the life-span of power stations beyond an earlier 2022 phaseout.
The ethics review board must consider factors including the speed with which renewable technologies can be developed, rising energy costs for consumers and social acceptance of the risks associated with nuclear power.
"We would win nothing if we switch off our nuclear power stations more quickly, but have to import nuclear energy from abroad," said ethics review board member Matthias Kleiner, who heads the German Research Foundation.
However it emerged Monday that this is precisely what is happening, as Germany has begun importing energy from France at peak usage times, at around 6pm (1600 GMT).
"Overall it is the case that Germany has become a net energy importer since March 16 and 17," said a spokesman of nuclear energy provider RWE.
The panel has until May 27 to present its report, enabling the government to formulate a new energy strategy before the three-month nuclear "moratorium" expires mid-June.