Regional elections in the North Rhine-Westphalia have seen Germany’s red-green coalition government lose a seat, a setback which has left Chancellor Gerhard Schröder with no choice but to bring forward the general election by a year to this September.

With the current government unlikely to survive in such an election, the regional political situation is likely to reignite debate over the future of nuclear power in Germany with the opposition Christian Democrats (CDU) announcing that they will allow utilities to operate nuclear stations beyond the current limits.

CDU leader Angela Merkel said that, provided they were deemed safe, reactors could continue to generate, despite some having reached the quotas agreed as part of the nuclear phase out deal. Share prices in major generators such as E.ON and RWE rose at the news.