Berlin: Chancellor Angela Merkel called on Sunday for Germany`s nuclear power plants to be given an extension of 10 to 15 years past their current legal shutoff date in about 2022.
The options of shutting down, continuing with or extending the life of the country`s reactors have proved a hot political issue, dividing the last three government coalitions in Berlin.
Merkel`s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) came to power last year promising to allow up to 17 power reactors a longer lease of life. But her government has not yet settled the duration or the price.
Speaking to an ARD public television interviewer, Merkel said, "On technical grounds, 10 to 15 years is reasonable."
She referred to a report by independent consultants which is due to be published in the coming week.
Members of her party have raised doubts in recent weeks about whether an extension makes sense, since Germany`s anti-nuclear movement has vowed to oppose it.
Merkel added, "I nevertheless have to consider as head of government how we integrate safety as the overriding principle of nuclear energy."
She revealed she would only order an extension in a form that did not require the consent of Germany`s upper house of Parliament, the Bundesrat. The CDU does not have a majority in the chamber, which is appointed by the 16 German state governments.
Quoting from the experts, she said, "As regards certainty of supply, the price of electricity and achievement of emissions targets, nuclear energy is desirable as an interim technology."
Germany currently has 17 nuclear power reactors clustered at 12 sites, but some have been out of commission for repair for years.
Under legislation passed by a previous German government of Social Democrats and Greens, nuclear power is supposed to be phased out after each reactor has produced its remaining quota of electricity. That would mean final closure in about 2022, experts forecast.
The CDU says it will build no new plants, but wants to run the existing plants longer until renewable energy becomes economic.