Monday, December 14, 1998 Published at 17:50 GMT
Germany plans to scrap nuclear power
Last year saw a wave of anti-nuclear protests in Germany
Negotiations to phase out Germany's nuclear power stations will start in January, Chancellor Gerhard Schröder has said.
Mr Schröder, who earlier met four leading nuclear energy operators, said: "All participants are prepared to reach an agreement."
He said he would personally conduct the talks.
Phasing out nuclear power stations was one of the conditions set by the Green Party for joining the Social Democrats in a coalition government in September.
The parties have already set a one-year deadline to reach a consensus with the industry.
If the talks do not produce a deal by 2000, the government has said it will pass legislation setting its own timetable.
The plan envisages shutting down Germany's 19 reactors, with the first closure as early as 2000.
Fossil fuel and gas-generated power would be used instead, and the government intends to promote wind and solar energy further. It also hopes a planned hike in energy tax will reduce power output.
The talks also aim to avert the threat of huge compensation lawsuits by utilities companies against the government if nuclear plants are shut down prematurely.
Mr Schröder said power executives told him during Monday's talks that the compensation issue "must be considered".
Utilities companies are fighting legislation scrapping nuclear power, and have already threatened to appeal to Germany's Federal Constitutional Court.
Energy firms have also threatened lawsuits worth hundreds of millions of marks if their business interests are damaged by the shutdowns.
Last month, the three leading utilities firms and two trade unions issued an open letter to Schröder asking him to delay the introduction of the legislation.
They argued that it would damage their chances of reaching a consensus in the talks, but Environment Minister Jurgen Trittin rejected their request.