German nuclear "crisis talks" cancelled

Trittin to draw up phase-out law ensuring utilities get no compensation unless consensus reached

German chancellor Gerhard Schröder cancelled nuclear phase-out "crisis talks" between his SPD party and the Greens yesterday after it became clear that the governing coalition allies could not find a common position on the country's nuclear phase-out programme. Instead, environment minister Jürgen Trittin will now lead an inter-ministerial working group to "clarify legal questions" involved in drafting a phase-out law. This would outlaw compensation claims from power firms if no agreement is reached with the government in ongoing "consensus" talks. The phase-out is required by the coalition agreement signed by the two parties after last September's general election.

The move is a minor victory for Mr Trittin, who had opposed an informal compromise agreement reached on most of the disputed points between economics minister Werner Müller and industry heads last month. The government-industry talks held to discuss the compromise ended inconclusively after the chancellor also expressed reservations (ENDS Daily 22 June), while previous talks ended with a walkout by industry leaders (ENDS Daily 12 March). Yesterday's talks were intended to establish a united coalition position before further consensus talks in the autumn.

Mr. Müller had proposed that the country's 19 reactors be closed after lifetimes of 35 years and that current spent fuel reprocessing contracts with France and Britain be honoured, in return for a industry pledge not to make compensation claims. Mr Trittin, for whose Green party a nuclear exit is non-negotiable, favours a lifetime of 25 years and would like to end reprocessing within a year. A spokesman for the chancellor told ENDS Daily today that Mr Schröder's position was closer to his economics minister and that attempts to find a consensus with industry would continue "at a lower level" until a high-level meeting in October.

The working group includes officials from the environment, economics, interior and justice ministries and gives Mr Trittin room to manoeuvre on his own proposals, but would have to "have consideration for the nuclear industry and partners in France and Britain," a government spokesman told the daily Süddeutsche Zeitung yesterday. However, the official told ENDS Daily today that any law drafted by the group would explicit prohibit compensation claims if it was opposed by industry.

The development relieves pressure on the red-green coalition, which looked shaky earlier this week after leading Greens threatened to withdraw their support if the Müller compromise was accepted. It will have a similar effect on Mr Trittin, whose standing within his own party has been increasingly challenged after he was forced by Mr Schröder to block agreement on the EU end-of-life vehicles directive last month (ENDS Daily 24 June).

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

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