Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has struck a deal with Germany's four main energy companies to shut down the country's 19 nuclear power plants within 20 years

BONN, Dec 17 (AFP) - Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has struck a deal with Germany's four main energy companies to shut down the country's 19 nuclear power plants within 20 years, Der Spiegel magazine reported Thursday.

The deal with RWE, Veba, Viag and Energy Baden-Wuerttemberg would end a dispute raging within Schroeder's coalition, with the Greens ecologists trying to push the issue faster than his Social Democrats (SPD).

Der Spiegel said Schroeder had reached agreement at a meeting Monday with the nuclear industrialists that at least two of the oldest plants would be closed by the end of the current legislative session in 2002.

But it said the two sides had agreed that they would deny any leaks of this agreement, which they want to be held secret.

Schroeder has been concerned about compensation demands from the industry for shutting down their nuclear plants but the agreement stipulates that the industrialists will drop any right to such claims in exchange for getting a public contract that sets out the timetable for phasing out the plants.

The German government Wednesday postponed until mid-January plans to present a draft bill banning nuclear energy, fearful that it would damage the ruling coalition.