Whither Germany's Nukes?

Schroeder's Red-Green coalition has promised to pull the plug on nuclear power. Will reality short-circuit their best intentions?

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Energy may affect the chemistry of Germany's proposed Red-Green coalition. Both Gerhard Schroeder's Social Democrats (SPD) and the more radical Greens are committed to eliminating nuclear power -- which provides fully one third of Germany's electricity. Their timetables, however.are sharply different. The SPD wants to close reactors over a period of decades; the Greens want to do it last week. "This is a core question for the Greens," says TIME correspondent James Graff. "It's the very reason they came into being. But because they share the same goal, they may cut the SPD some slack on this one." Germany's anxious electrical industry, for its part, urged Schroeder on Tuesday to "accept reality" and realize that Germany can't survive without its nuclear plants.

The Greens also want to reduce Germany's energy consumption by trebling gasoline taxes over the next 10 years. The economic impact of such a tax, however, would run counter to the SPD's priority of reducing unemployment. So how will they resolve their differences? The experience of the Red-Green alliance in Westphalia's regional government may be portentous. Pushed by its coal-miner support base, the SPD supported a request by the coal industry to expand operations, which was unacceptable to the Greens. The result has been paralysis; the coalition government hasn't refused the license but hasn't granted it either, despite months of waiting. In national government, the influence of the Greens will be even more disproportionate. Says Graff: "In coalition politics, small partners often come with a higher price tag than bigger ones."