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Germany: Government Considering Selling Nuclear Plant To Russia

Germany appears about to sell Russia a nuclear plant that would recycle weapons-grade plutonium. Despite objections from members of his own left coalition, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder says the government will not oppose the sale. RFE/RL correspondent Roland Eggleston reports from Munich.

Munich, 29 August 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The German government has agreed in principle to sell Russia a nuclear plant that can be used to recover plutonium from Russian weapons and use it for rods for nuclear power plants.

The proposed sale is opposed by some members of the ruling left coalition for a variety of reasons, but Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has said his government will not obstruct the sale.

In a television interview today, Schroeder said that the recent summit meeting of leaders of the Group of Seven industrialized nations plus Russia (aka G-8) had agreed that Western nations should assist Russia in disposing of its weapons-grade plutonium. Schroeder said the sale of the German plant could be considered a concrete measure toward implementing this agreement.

Schroeder told his Social Democratic party yesterday that he had no reservations about the export of the plant based on security considerations. Under German law, the export of the plant could be banned if there were such reservations.

The plant, at Hanau -- near Frankfurt -- was built by the German electrical giant Siemens in the early 1990s at the cost of some $465 million. It has never been used because the Hesse state government refused it an operating permit. The decisive voice in that decision was the state's environmental minister, Joschka Fischer, who is now Germany's foreign minister.

A government spokesman in Berlin said today: "Fischer now agrees that selling the plant to Russia could aid European security by helping Russia dispose of its weapons-grade plutonium."

Some members of the Greens environmental party -- which is part of the governing coalition -- say the plan to use the plutonium for rods in nuclear power plants contradicts Germany's own nuclear policy. Officially, Germany is committed to phasing out the use of nuclear power over the next 30 years, and it has urged other countries to do the same.

Neither the German government nor Siemens have said where the plant might be installed in Russia or given any indication when it might be transferred.

Government officials who asked not to be identified told our correspondent today that one outstanding problem was how to finance the deal. A Siemens spokesman said the company was not doing business directly with the Russian government and would not export the plant at its own risk. The spokesman said Siemens was in fact offering the plant to the German government so that Berlin could fulfill its part of the G-8 agreement.

Siemens puts the current value of the plant at about $73.5 million, but emphasizes that it invested millions in developing it. The Siemens spokesman would not say how much the firm would ask for the plant if the export to Russia took place.

An official spokesman in Berlin said that, for internal political reasons, the government did not want to use its own funds to pay for the plant. He said it was conceivable that Siemens would receive its money through an international fund if the plant were exported.

Other officials said the government was sensitive because of the continuing internal disputes over the decision to phase out nuclear power in Germany. For this reason, they said, the government was unwilling to provide German money for the production of nuclear fuel rods.