January 10, 2006

German govt. remains divided on ending nuclear power

GENSHAGEN, Germany (Reuters) - German government leaders
remained at odds over whether to reverse a 2000 law phasing out
nuclear power on Tuesday, the second day of a cabinet retreat
that is focusing on several divisive issues.

After approving a 25 billion euro ($30 billion) spending
program on Monday, Chancellor Angela Merkel's cabinet planned
to discuss health care reform, ideas on giving extra state
support for low-paying jobs, and energy policy.

Economy Minister Michael Glos renewed demands by some
leaders in the conservative Christian Democrats to scrap a law
written by the previous Social Democrat-Greens government that
calls for the gradual elimination of nuclear power in Germany.

But Glos was quickly rebuffed by Finance Minister Peer
Steinbrueck, a leader of the SPD in Merkel's right-left "grand
coalition," who said there was no chance the government would
even consider reversing plans to end nuclear power.

"We need a reasonable mix of energy sources and energy that
is affordable so that consumers and industry aren't further
burdened by higher prices," Glos told German television outside
a conclave in the Genshagen villa south of Berlin.

"Especially when it's cold and others can turn off their
natural gas supplies," he added, referring to the recent
dispute between Russia and Ukraine over natural gas supplies.

"We have to talk about the issue of whether we should be
arbitrarily turning off nuclear power. We have to talk about
whether it is reasonable to turn off nuclear plants in perfect
technical condition and import expensive energy from abroad."

But Merkel, who campaigned to extend the use of nuclear
power in Germany, has already said she will stand by a
coalition agreement signed after the election which clearly
states that plans to shut down nuclear plants will not be

Steinbrueck told German television no SPD ministers were
wavering on the issue of ending nuclear power in Germany.

"This is clearly defined in the coalition agreement and the
coalition agreement is the foundation for the activities of
this coalition," Steinbrueck said. "Ending the phase-out of
nuclear energy is not up for discussion."

Glos and Steinbrueck also disagreed in their separate
interviews on whether the government should offer state
subsidies for low-income jobs to help low-skilled and long-term
unemployed people find work.

Steinbrueck said he opposed any measures that would place
new burdens on the budget while Glos said the subsidies for
such jobs would come -- it was only a question of what form
they took.

Merkel and other cabinet leaders put a strong emphasis on
stimulating economic growth on Monday, at the start of the
conclave in rural Brandenburg.