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Monday, 26 March, 2001, 10:34 GMT 11:34 UK
Nuclear nightmare for Greens
Juergin Trittin
Power turned sour: Juergen Trittin is facing public anger
For more than a quarter of a century, an anti-nuclear movement virtually unrivalled in Western Europe has flourished in Germany.

"Atomkraft - Nein Danke" stickers plastered the VW Beetles and 2CVs of a generation of students; thousands have joined street protests or taken direct action.

It seemed the movement had reached its moment of triumph when the Green Party, its roots firmly in the anti-nuclear movement, joined Gerhard Schoeder's Social Democrats in government in 1997.

But now, with thousands protesting against the restarting of nuclear waste shipments, the Greens find themselves in the extraordinary position of being on the "wrong side" of the argument: their ministers back the policy, and have even urged protesters to stay at home.

Anti-nuclear protest
Protests are continuing despite Green pleas
There was little sign of the problems that lay ahead when the Greens joined the government.

They insisted, as a condition of entering the coalition, that Germany would have to become free of nuclear power.

The deal duly followed: German nuclear power bosses became the first in any major economic power to accept that their industry was dying.

But under the plan, it will be up to 20 years before the last of Germany's 19 nuclear power station finally shuts down.


We must take our waste back - we cannot say keep it, it is a generous present from our Red-Green government to the French republic

Green Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer
And the deal, historic though it was, split the Greens into those who saw it as a realistic compromise and those who saw it as a sell-out.

Green Environment Minister Juergen Trittin backed the compromise, to the anger of radicals.

He has also found himself formally backing the resumption of nuclear waste transport to Gorleben - despite having himself been a former protester there.

Acceptance

After a three-year ban over safety fears, Germany agreed in January to resume the transport - and senior Greens urged grassroots members to accept the inevitable.

"We must take our waste back," German Foreign Minister and leading Green Joschka Fischer has told members.

"We cannot say keep it, it is a generous present from our Red-Green government to the French republic...the French Greens would never accept that -- rightly."

recycling facility in Valognes, near La Hague
The Greens have had to back the resumption of waste shipments
But opposition to the transport continues, both inside and outside the party.

German intelligence sources estimate that as many as 1,000 violent left-wing extremists could be planning action.

Thousands more peaceful protesters are expected to lend their support to the opposition.

Tens of thousands have already joined street protests - some chanting slogans against Mr Trittin for allowing the transport and for agreeing to take so long to phase out nuclear power.

Support slipping

Green party leaders have tried to salvage the party's credibility as an anti-nuclear force.

"We have to make clear that we are also in favour of a speedy withdrawal from nuclear power and that we want a different storage site," said Claudia Roth, the party's co-chairwoman.

But Sunday's elections in two German states saw the party suffer a collapse in support.

A separate row over patriotism is thought to be partly to blame.

But some correspondents believe the Green Party is in danger of sliding into a hole between its old radical support base - for whom it has become too compromised - and more mainstream voters whose priorities now lie in other issues.

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See also:

23 Jun 00 | Europe
German Greens back nuclear deal
15 Jun 00 | Europe
Germany renounces nuclear power
15 Jun 00 | Europe
Germany faces political fallout
15 Jun 00 | Business
Nuclear power nightmare
15 Jun 00 | Europe
Nuclear doubts gnaw deeper
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