Japan's recent nuclear troubles triggered a rethink of a plan to keep Germany's nuclear power plants on line longer. The governing coalition has now established a new timeline for Germany's nuclear shutdown by 2022.
Nuclear energy has long been unpopular in Germany
German Environment Minister Norbert Röttgen has announced that the center-right coalition has agreed to shut down all the country's nuclear power plants by 2022.
Röttgen made the announcement in the early hours of Monday following a lengthy meeting of the ruling coalition parties.
"It's definite: the latest end of the last three nuclear power plants is 2022," Röttgen told reporters. "There will be no clause for revision."
The government wants to keep the eight oldest of Germany's 17 reactors permanently shut. Seven were closed temporarily in March, following the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan. One has been off the grid for years.
Röttgen made the announcement in the small hours
Röttgen said another six will be taken off line by 2021. The remaining three reactors, the newest, will stay open for another year until 2022 to ease the transition to other energy sources and ensure no disruption to power supply.
The decision was reached after almost 12 hours of talks in Berlin between senior members of Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU), their Bavarian sister party the Christian Social Union (CSU) and junior coalition partner the Free Democrats (FDP) .
The head of the CSU, Horst Seehofer, supported the idea that nuclear power should be phased out within a decade. "I will use the results from the commission as the basis for our negotiations," he was quoted as saying in the Bild am Sonntag newspaper, before the meeting.
While the CDU and CSU earlier seemed supportive of an end date of 2021 or 2022, the FDP pushed for a less exact timeframe. Germany's economics minister and the head of the FDP, Philipp Rösler, warned of a bidding contest for the date. "The path up to that point is critical," he said. Rösler was reported to have made the suggestion that nuclear plants remain on stand-by.
Protesters demand end to nuclear power
Sunday's meeting came as activists continue to protest against the use of nuclear power. Greencepeace environmentalists climbed atop Berlin's famed Brandenburg Gate on Sunday morning and unfurled an 18-meter (60-foot) wide banner reading "Every day of nuclear power is one too many."
On Saturday more than 100,000 demonstrators took to the streets in 20 cities across Germany, calling for a rapid end to nuclear energy.
Author: Holly Fox, Joanna Impey (AFP, dpa, dapd, Reuters)
Editor: Andreas Illmer