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The BBC's Caroline Wyatt in Berlin
"One third of Germany's energy is provided by its nuclear reactors"
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Thursday, 15 June, 2000, 12:47 GMT 13:47 UK
Germany renounces nuclear power
Gerhard Schroeder flanked by nuclear industry chiefs
Gerhard Schroeder was flanked by nuclear industry chiefs at the news conference
The German Government has reached an historic agreement with energy companies for the gradual closing down of the country's 19 nuclear power stations.

It means that Germany has become the first leading economic power officially to announce its intention to phase out the use of nuclear energy.

I think that's a sensible compromise

Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder

Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder confirmed the agreement early on Thursday after four-and-a-half hours of last-ditch negotiations with the chief executives of Germany's four leading utilities.

He said nuclear power plants would be shut down after a lifespan of 32 years - longer than his party's coalition partners, the Greens, wanted, but less than the industry had demanded.

That means Germany's last nuclear plant could go off-line in about 20 years.

"I think that's a sensible compromise," Mr Schroeder told a news conference after the meeting.

Industry leaders said they regretted the early closures, but accepted "the primacy of the political system".

Election pledge

The deal fulfils an election pledge by the Social Democrat-Green Party coalition government to establish a plan for phasing out the country's nuclear energy production.

The Biblis nuclear plant i
The Biblis nuclear plant is one of 19 to be shut down

Atomic power currently accounts for about 30% of all Germany's energy consumption.

The conservative opposition Christian Democrats have threatened to block any deal in the upper house of parliament, where the states are represented.

They say that abandoning nuclear energy will mean importing electricity from countries with bad nuclear safety records, or increasing electricity output - and carbon dioxide emissions - from conventional power plants.

They also accuse the government of ignoring potential job losses, and costs to states like Bavaria and Baden-Wuerttemberg that are major shareholders in public utilities.

Last chance

The latest talks had been viewed as the last chance for a voluntary agreement with the four major energy companies - RWE, VIAG, VEBA and Energie Baden Wuerttemberg.

The government had threatened to legislate for plant closures if a voluntary deal could not be reached.

Nuclear power
Germany has 19 nuclear plants at 14 sites

They produce 170,392 gigawatts of power - a third of Germany's electricity

A 1997 opinion found that 81% of Germans were in favour of nuclear power

433 nuclear power stations operate worldwide

France generates 75% of its electricity from nuclear

But the negotiations dragged on for over 18 months, marked by bickering between the coalition partners over how quickly the plants should be closed down.

The plan

The German chancellor did not say when exactly the last nuclear power station would be switched off.

Under the deal, the generating industry will be allowed to produce about 2,500 terawatt hours before the shut-down.

The indications are that it will be free to close the older, inefficient reactors first and transfer their right to generate power to new, more modern plants.

The red-green government originally wanted to give each nuclear power-station a 30 year lifespan. The industry favoured 35 years.

The Christian Democrat opposition has pledged to overturn the policy if it wins the next general election in 2002.

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See also:

15 Jun 00 | Europe
Germany faces political fallout
15 Jun 00 | Europe
Nuclear doubts gnaw deeper
15 Jun 00 | Business
Nuclear power nightmare
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