German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel has named seven of the country's 17 remaining nuclear power stations that he would like to see shut down immediately, altering the timetable for a phase-out set to last until 2020.
Power companies promptly rejected the demand on Saturday. In an interview, the Social Democratic minister had said closing down the oldest seven reactors would bring a "great gain in technical security".
Speaking to the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper, he said the stations he would pick to close were Biblis A and B in the state of Hesse, Brunsbuettel near Hamburg, Neckarwestheim 1 and Philippsburg 1 in Baden-Wuerttemberg state and Unterweser in Lower Saxony.
Gabriel said he would allow a delay in the closure of more modern stations, such as Isar 2 in Bavaria state or Neckarwestheim 2, in exchange for an earlier closure of the oldest sites.
He told the newspaper his aides calculated that only five percent of the licensed generating capacity would need to be transferred to quickly reduce Germany's array of power reactors to just 10.
The proposal would likely face resistance from Christian Democratic ministers in Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition, as her party, the CDU, is leaning towards a longer utilization of nuclear power as a way to hold down carbon-dioxide emissions.
Gabriel said action was needed because of accidents this summer at two plants near Hamburg. Fire wrecked the transformer at Kruemmel, and Brunsbuettel was hit by a short circuit.
Though there was no release of radioactivity, inspectors found defects at both sites.
Asked for comment, RWE, operator of the Biblis plant, said plant safety was not related to the age of a reactor. At another utility, Energie Baden-Wuerttemberg, a spokesman said, "Our plants are safe," adding there was "no basis" for Gabriel's proposal.