Heat but little light in German nuclear talks

Talks aiming at phase-out agreement continue amid rumours, protests, accusations

The looming deadline of the end of the year for Germany's governing parties and power generators to reach agreement on the highly charged issue of phasing out nuclear power is being reflected in a swirling public debate including rumours of deals, denials, accusations and threats of legal action.

On Tuesday, the red-green governing coalition was widely reported to have reached an agreement to limit the life of Germany's 19 nuclear reactors to 27 years following a report in the capital's newspaper Berliner Zeitung. The formula would mean that the government could close three plants before the next general elections, due in autumn 2002, and that all plants would be closed by 2016.

The chairman of the social democrats in parliament, Peter Struck, and head of the green party Kerstin Müller insisted that no more coalition talks were needed but blamed the power industry for dragging its feet. However, the speaker of the Green party, Gunda Röstel, denied the rumoured "27 plus x" formula saying the coalition parties were "in the middle of discussions". Meanwhile the environment ministry rejected the idea of the formula as "pure invention". The economics ministry remained silent.

In Berlin on Sunday, thousands of people mobilised by citizens' initiatives and environmental NGOs took to the streets demanding an immediate end to nuclear power generation. Friends of the Earth Germany (Bund) issued a statement on Monday calling on the government to introduce a law to halt nuclear power generation immediately. It advised the government not to take seriously industry threats that the federal constitutional court should look at a nuclear phase-out law, saying that an immediate halt was "legally possible and necessary".

Meanwhile, the chairman of electricity generating giant RWE today accused the government of "perverting" the purpose of genuine consensus talks over the phase-out by threatening a law forcing plant closures if no agreement could be found. Speaking at the firm's annual meeting in Essen, Dietmar Kuhnt blamed a breakdown in the talks earlier this year (ENDS Daily 8 July) on a "a lack of unity in the government's camp". Dr Kuhnt said that a phase-out without compensation could only take place within the normal investment cycle.

The result of inter-ministerial consultations on how a forced phase-out could be made legally water-tight (ENDS Daily 27 September) are still awaited this month.

Follow Up:
RWE, tel: +49 201 1200; Bund, tel: +49 228 400 970; Berliner Zeitung, tel: +49 30 23279.

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