Breakthrough for German nuclear phase-out talks

Intense negotiations follow outline agreement to close all nuclear power plants by 2021

A firm agreement on ending the use of nuclear power in Germany appears to be on the cards after a surprise proposal emerged from talks between the economics ministry and industry chiefs late last week. The nuclear industry and chancellor Gerhard Schröder held talks on the plan today, and edged "closer" to a formal agreement, according to German government sources, who declined to say exactly what progress had been made.

Phasing out nuclear power is a headline issue for the Green party, which took office as the junior party in Germany's federal governing coalition for the first time last autumn. The plan, which has been aggressively championed by Green environment minister Jürgen Trittin, has caused serious political tension in the government, and virtually collapsed in March when the nuclear industry walked out of talks (ENDS Daily 12 March).

Under the new draft agreement now being scrutinised by all sides, each of Germany's 19 nuclear power stations would be closed after a maximum 35-year operating life. This would mean a final phase-out in 2021, according to government sources, though the date is being put at 2023 or 2024 in different press reports.

Power firms have been arguing for a 40-year maximum life span for reactors. But in return for a phase-out period longer than the 20-year maximum reactor life demanded by Mr Trittin, they now seem ready to commit not to lodge massive compensation claims. The outline deal also includes an agreement to end exports of German spent fuel for reprocessing from 2004.

In an indication of tough obstacles still to be overcome if the deal is to be formalised, Green party spokespeople said yesterday that they were opposed to allowing 35-year maximum life-spans for reactors. The party also wants the first plant closures to begin before 2003, as envisaged in the new draft plan, and has pushed for reprocessing of German spent fuel to be ended by next year rather than 2004.

Follow Up:
German government, tel: +49 228 2080; German environment ministry, tel: +49 228 3050.

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