The industrial powerhouse gets almost a quarter of its electricity from nuclear power plants, which emit limited greenhouse gases. If Germany turns to smog-belching coal power plants, emissions could worsen. Environmentalists say that move won’t be necessary, but many analysts aren’t so sure.
“If we want to quickly get out of nuclear power and into renewable energy, we need fossil-fuel power plants,” Merkel said in an address to Germany’s Parliament. “There is no way around.”
More than a dozen new coal-burning plants were already planned around Germany over the next several years, many of them cleaner replacements for old plants that have reached the end of their life spans. Several investment firms said they expected that the country would emit hundreds of millions more tons of carbon dioxide over the next 10 years, driving up price forecasts for European-wide carbon-emissions permits.
Even as Merkel promised to hold to emissions targets, she said she wanted to greatly expand the generating capacity of fossil-fuel-burning plants.
“At least 10, more likely 20, additional gigawatts have to be built in the next 10 years,” Merkel said — more than a tenth of the country’s current capacity.
She reiterated a pledge that Germany would meet its emissions targets and its nuclear deadline. Environmentalists in Germany — some of whom say the nuclear phaseout is not happening quickly enough — compare the scale of the plan’s ambitions to those of the Apollo project in the United States.
“It’s going to be a bit of a make-or-break experiment, which everyone is watching extremely carefully on a global basis,” said David Baldock, executive director of the London-based Institute for European Environmental Policy. “It’s quite brave.”
A quarter of Germany’s electricity is generated by nuclear power plants, slightly more than the United States but far behind France, which gets almost 80 percent of its power from nuclear energy. But the disaster at the Fukushima plant in Japan, which barely caused a stir in France, exacerbated long-held fears about the technology in Germany.
Germany’s Green Party was organized to combat nuclear energy shortly after the Three Mile Island disaster in the United States in 1979. It just took over the government in Baden-Wuerttemberg, a wealthy, conservative region in southern Germany.
Many Germans ascribe their country’s nuclear aversion to the devastation and shame of World War II, which made many here cautious about atom bombs and atomic energy.