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Nuclear plant free Germany by 2020 A.D.

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June 16, 2000  

 

BERLIN (AP) - German nuclear plants could start going off line in 2002 following a landmark agreement by the government and the power industry to end the country's use of atomic energy, the environment minister said Thursday.

    

The deal clinched by Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and bosses of nuclear plants early Thursday after more than a year of haggling envisages the last plant shutting down in about 20 years.

    

Schroeder's center-left government took over in late 1998 promising to negotiate an end to nuclear power, an issue especially dear to the hearts of his junior coalition partner, the environmentalist Greens party.

    

Environment Minister Juergen Trittin, a Greens leader who has tussled with nuclear plant operators, called the accord an acceptable compromise and urged his party to back it.

    

He said the first plant could shut down in late 2002, though he stressed that power companies had leeway with the start and end of the timetable.

    

"If that flexibility is not used, the first nuclear power plant would go off-line at the end of 2002," he said in a radio interview.

    

The Greens have pressed for the phaseout to start before the next election in the fall of 2002 so they can present their voters with a major achievement.

    

By agreeing with the power bosses that the government would legislate a nuclear phaseout, the Greens had achieved their prime goal in the talks, Trittin said.

    

At an early morning news conference, Schroeder announced that the two sides had compromised on how quickly the phaseout would take effect, with the government allowing two extra years of running time.

    

Industry leaders said they regretted the early closures. "But we accept the primacy of the political system," Ulrich Hartmann, chairman of the Veba utility, said after 4 1/2 hours of talks.

    

Germany's 19 nuclear plants provide almost a third of the country's electricity. But the country also has a big anti-nuclear lobby that regularly targets shipments of nuclear fuel or waste with massive, sometimes violent protests.

    

Schroeder, a Social Democrat, initially said his government would legislate plant closures after a year if a voluntary deal couldn't be reached with plant operators. But the negotiations dragged on over 18 months and were marked by bickering between the partners over how quickly the plants should be forced off-line.

    

The final deal allows a total lifespan of 32 years for power plants, Schroeder said. He did not say exactly when the last nuclear energy production will end. But the newest German plants came on line in the late 1980s, which means their 32 years should be up around 2020.

    

Environmental activists, including some regional Greens leaders, charged the agreed phaseout was far too slow. The German Union for the Protection of Nature called the accord an affront.     


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