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Thursday, October 15, 1998 Published at 22:58 GMT 23:58 UK

World: Europe

Slow death for nuclear power

Green Party chairman Jürgen Trittin - would have wanted immediate closures

Germany's prospective coalition partners, the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the Green Party, have agreed that they will phase out nuclear power plants.

[ image: Green Party leader Joschka Fischer - compromised on deadline]
Green Party leader Joschka Fischer - compromised on deadline
They say the new government will open talks with nuclear industry leaders within the next year, but deputy SPD chairman Wolfgang Thierse said that no decision on the timetable had yet been reached.

The announcement, made after another day of coalition talks, is seen as a compromise.

The environmentalist Greens want to see the end of nuclear power - because of its potential dangers - as soon as possible, but the SPD talks of a phasing-out period of up to 30 years.

Caroline Wyatt: "The death knell for a profitable industry"
The BBC's correspondent in Bonn, Caroline Wyatt, says that the agreement is effectively a fudge, which has enabled the parties to make a joint statement of intent - but without committing themselves to any particular deadline.

She says the two parties seem determined not to let their differences hold up the process of forming a new government.

Some 35% of Germany's electricity is produced in the 19 nuclear power plants, and major generators have expressed their concern about the planned closures.

RWE Energie AG, the country's largest electricity company said that chances of reaching a consensus on energy policy with the new government would be hurt by any preconditions calling for an end to nuclear power.

[ image: RWE's nuclear plant at Biblis - compensation could be billions]
RWE's nuclear plant at Biblis - compensation could be billions
The company's spokesman, Hermann Venghaus, has declined to comment further on the news.

"We are waiting for the written coalition agreement," he said.

Wilhelm Simson, Chief Executive of Viag AG, Germany's third utility company, said that the viable lifetime of a nuclear plant was 35 to 40 years.

"The deal is effectively a fudge" - Caroline Wyatt reports
"Anything less would be a pure destruction of capital and would be indefensible economically," he said in a newspaper article.

About half of Germany's nuclear power stations are less than 20 years old.

Siemens AG, whose KWU power plant unit also uses nuclear power, is worried about "high-tech jobs in the nuclear technology business".

The company says that shutting down the nuclear reactors would force increased use of coal, oil and natural gas that would increase carbon dioxide emissions by 160 million tonnes.

On the German stock exchange, utility shares declined sharply, after the news of the planned closures had created selling pressure.

But the German Government could face much higher losses if the utility companies decide to sue for compensation. Our correspondent says the bill could amount to billions of Deutschmarks.

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