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Germany powerless over nuke sale, says Schroeder

8 December 2003

BERLIN – German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has insisted that the government could not refuse the sale of a German nuclear fuel-rod plant to China, despite criticism from within the coalition.

Schroeder told Germany’s ZDF television the government could not stop the sale by engineering group Siemens of the mothballed factory at Hanau near Frankfurt.

“We have known in the government for a long time that we would have to fulfil this legal claim,” he said.

Siemens had a legal right to approval for the sale as the plant – designed to produce a mixed oxide of uranium and plutonium for nuclear power stations – could not be used for a military application, he said.

“In this question we have, in my view, no political possibility of making a decision.”

The planned sale is threatening to cause a rift in the coalition of Schroeder’s Social Democrats and anti-nuclear Greens, who have called for coalition talks on the issue.

Schroeder met Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer in what the newspaper Bild am Sonntag described as an attempt to ward off a coalition crisis.

Handelsblatt newspaper reports Monday edition that the meeting led to a row between the two, with Fischer accusing Schroeder of a “communications disaster”, and Schroeder blaming Fischer for not doing enough to prevent the criticism from the Greens.

However, sources said Fischer has not appeared to have made any moves to stop the planned export.

Schroeder, on a visit to China last week, stunned members of his own cabinet by announcing the sale of the plant. Officials admitted the sale to Beijing had been under review in Berlin since February but was kept top secret.

Built at a cost of EUR700 million, the factory was never allowed to operate in Germany amid protests over safety concerns in the 1980s led by Fischer who was then the Green Party’s environment minister of Hesse state.

There have been fears China could use the plant to produce weapons-grade plutonium for military use, however Siemens said the facility was not suited for that purpose.

Green European member of parliament Daniel Cohn-Bendit said at the weekend he would be seeking a stop to the planned sale, saying it violated the European Union arms embargo on China.

Subject: German news