|The decision to extend German nuclear reactors' lifespans has been criticised by environmental groups [AFP]
The German government has decided to extend the lifespans of the country's nuclear reactors.
The decision, taken on Monday after 12 hours of talks between senior politicians in Chancellor Angela Merkel's centre-right coalition, means that some of the 17 plants will now be operational until the 2030s.
Norbert Roettgen, the environment minister, said after the meeting in Berlin that the lifespans of Germany's nuclear power stations would be extended by 12 years on average.
"We've agreed that older nuclear plants will receive an extension of eight years, and newer ones operating with different technical standards will get a 14-year extension," he said.
He said nuclear utilities would have to pay part of their extra profits boosted from the extension to develop renewable energy.
The debate has also pitted nuclear power-plant operators against environmentalists, about 1,000 of whom staged a protest outside the chancellery where the meeting was held.
The agreement is set to be the cornerstone of Merkel's broader energy strategy which will be decided later this month.
Merkel's predecessor, Gerhard Schroeder, had decided to mothball the reactors by around 2020.
Merkel wanted to postpone the shutdown as part of a new "energy concept" for the country due to go before her cabinet on September 28.
The decision was criticised by Greenpeace and other environmental groups as well as Germany's Green Party.
Merkel calls the extension a "bridge" until renewable sources of energy such as wind and solar power can produce more of Germany's power as it seeks to reduce dependence on coal.
The meeting also set down some of the specifics of a separate nuclear fuel element tax intended to raise $3.1 bn a year.
They discussed how to make energy companies such as RWE, Vattenfall and E.ON pay for the extension of their plants and ensure a greater contribution to Germany's energy output from renewable sources.
Quid pro quo
As part of an 80bn-euro austerity programme for the period 2011 to 2014, Germany wanted to tap energy firms, a quid pro quo for keeping their plants open for longer.
The nuclear extension deal faced immediate criticism from the opposition Social Democrats (SPD), who said they planned a legal challenge if Merkel's cabinet attempted to pass it into law without approval of the upper house of parliament.
The SPD said it would reverse any extension of the nuclear plants' lifespans if the party returned to power.
Support for Merkel's coalition has fallen in recent opinion polls and surveys suggested a majority of Germans opposed the idea of postponing the date that the country goes nuclear-free.