International Herald Tribune

Bonn Partners Spar Openly on Nuclear Energy

Paris, Wednesday, December 23, 1998

Agence France-Presse

BONN - In the first public dispute in his center-left coalition, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder on Tuesday warned his environment minister, Juergen Trittin, to toe the government line on abandoning nuclear energy.

Earlier Tuesday, Mr. Trittin unilaterally dissolved two commissions set up to advise the government on the nuclear industry ahead of consultations with power companies on abandoning nuclear energy.

Mr. Schroeder moved to quash this insubordination immediately, saying in a bulletin that Mr. Trittin's ''decision was not reached in agreement with the chancellery.''

He warned that he would stick to the agreement for talks with the nuclear industry to reach a consensus on how to abandon nuclear energy and said: ''Whoever challenges this questions the political accord we have and which is an important component of the coalition.'' The governing partnership joins the Social Democrats of Mr. Schroeder and the Greens, whom Mr. Trittin leads.

It was the most dramatic rend to the split between the men over abandoning nuclear energy.

The coalition government that took power less than two months ago called for abandoning nuclear energy but set no date. It said there would be a year of talks with the power industry before setting one. But it said that a law on the principle of abandonment would be passed within 100 days of the government's taking power Oct. 27.

Mr. Schroeder, who has made his career as a leftist by taking business interests into account, has stressed compromise with the nuclear industry and has dismissed a Greens deadline of 2004 as ''absurd.''

He is reported to want to give nuclear-energy companies 20 to 40 years to close down their plants.

The nuclear industry, which supplies a third of the electricity in Germany, has said that closing its 19 atomic plants would cost 88 billion Deutsche marks ($52 billion).

It says the closures eventually could eliminate 150,000 jobs, even though the 19 plants employ only about 400 people each, according to Winfried Mathes, a utilities analyst at Deutsche Bank.

The chancellor also has said that international contracts on reprocessing German nuclear fuel must be honored, even though the environment minister wants all reprocessing to stop immediately.

The government last week postponed until mid-January plans to present the draft bill banning nuclear energy.