The leader of Germany’s opposition Social Democratic party, Sigmar Gabriel, has called for the country’s constitution to be amended to allow for a referendum on the future of nuclear energy.

Earlier this month Angela Merkel’s government agreed to extend the lifespan of nuclear power plans by an average of 12 years from the original 2022 shut-down date.

However, the move has proved unpopular with the German public. Recent polls suggest that over half of Germans are opposed to life-extensions, with some taking to the streets in protest. Over the weekend between 40,000 and 100,000 people demonstrated against the move in Berlin, according to press reports.

Martin Young, head of European utilities research team at Nomura outlined the terms of the proposed agreement at the World Nuclear Association’s annual symposium on 17 September.

Under the new agreement, older plant (pre-1980) will get an 8-year life extension, with newer plant getting a 12-year extension.

The price for this will be:

  • A EUR 2.3 billion nuclear tax, set at EUR 145/g uranium, which will run for six years.
  • A contribution of EUR 300 million to a renewables fund for 2011 & 2012, dropping to EUR 200 million thereafter.
  • From 2017, there will be a charge of cEUR 9/MWh of nuclear output running for the life of the plants in question.

Young said that the agreement will only require Lower House approval, however he noted the comments from the opposition about taking legal action against the amendment to the Atomic Energy Act at Germany’s Federal Constitutional Court.

A formal government decision on the life extension is expected on 28 September 2010.