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Thousands Protest Against German Nuclear Plan

BERLIN - Tens of thousands demonstrated in Berlin Saturday against the government's proposal to extend the life of Germany's nuclear power plants for another decade or more.

Anti-nuclear protesters demonstrate at the Reichstag building during a demonstration against German government's energy policy at the governmental district in Berlin, September 18, 2010. The Reichstag is the seat of the German lower house of parliament Bundestag, the sentence on the banner reads "Enough of this crap". (REUTERS/Thomas Peter) Waving banners and balloons marked with the slogans of the anti-nuclear movement, they turned out in force to protest outside Chancellor Angela Merkel's headquarters.

The organisers -- environmental groups backed by left-leaning opposition parties -- put their numbers at 100,000, though police made it 37,000.

Special trains and 150 buses had been chartered to bring the demonstrators to Berlin from all over Germany.

Merkel's centre-right coalition on Sunday agreed to lift the deadline of 2022 for the phasing out of nuclear power set by an earlier Social Democrat-led government.

The new plan would extend the lifetime of Germany's 17 nuclear reactors for an average of 12 years beyond the previously scheduled shutdown.

Calculations in the German media suggest that the last plant will not be switched off until 2040, and critics say that operators may get away with keeping some running for even longer than that.

The government says the plan is necessary to maintain electricity supply until other renewable energy resources become available.

Even if the extension becomes law, the opposition Social Democrats (SPD), co-authors with the Greens of 2000's decision to exit nuclear power, said they will reverse Merkel's changes if they return to office.

With no permanent storage site for radioactive waste in place and fears about a repetition of a disaster in Germany like the Chernobyl meltdown in Ukraine in 1986, polls indicate a majority of voters oppose an extension.

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