BERLIN (AP) - Germany's phase-out of nuclear power will begin in 2003, when the first of 19 plants to be closed under an accord between the government and utilities will go off-line, a state official said Friday.
The E.ON utility has filed a plan to close down the Stade plant west of Hamburg - Germany's oldest - in the second half of 2003, then dismantle it over 10 to 12 years, Lower Saxony state Environment Minister Wolfgang Juettner said.
The move follows an agreement by Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and top power company executives last month to gradually shut down Germany's nuclear plants, a cause championed by the center-left government since it came to power in 1998.
The deal sets a standard life span of 32 years for existing plants, which means Germany's newest nuclear plant would shut down in 2021.
Stade, in operation since 1972, will close about a year earlier than foreseen under the agreement, Juettner said.
Some 100,000 tons of steel and concrete and up to 3,000 tons of slightly radioactive material will have to be dismantled, he said. The highly radioactive spent fuel rods will be sent to France for reprocessing.
Nuclear plants provide almost a third of Germany's electricity. The government says the phased shutdown will allow time to build up other sources, including renewable energy.
Schroeder took office promising to negotiate an end to nuclear power, a goal championed by the environmentalist Greens party, his junior coalition partner. However, many anti-nuclear activists would like to see a quicker shutdown.