Germany has announced that it will shut down all of its nuclear plants by 2022.

Environment Minister Norbert Roettgen made the announcement after a meeting of the ruling coalition that lasted into the early hours of this morning, describing it as 'irreversible'.

Chancellor Angela Merkel had set up an ethics panel to look into nuclear power following the disaster at the Fukushima plant in Japan.

'After long consultations, there is now an agreement by the coalition to end nuclear energy,' Mr Roettgen told reporters after seven hours of negotiations. 'This decision is consistent, decisive and clear.'

Germany has 17 nuclear reactors, eight of which are currently off the electricity grid.

Seven of those offline are the country's oldest nuclear reactors, which the federal government shut down for three months pending a safety probe after the Japanese atomic emergency at Fukushima in March.

The shut-down will make Germany the first major industrial power to give up atomic power.

It also means that the country will have to find the 22% of its electricity needs currently covered by nuclear reactors from another source.

Mr Roettgen insisted there was no danger of blackouts.

'We assure that the electricity supply will be ensured at all times and for all users,' he pledged, but did not provide details.

The decision is effectively a return to the timetable set by the previous Social Democrat-Green coalition government a decade ago.

It is also a humbling U-turn for Angela Merkel, who at the end of 2010 decided to extend the lifetime of Germany's 17 reactors by an average of 12 years, which would have kept them open until the mid-2030s.

That decision was unpopular in Germany even before the earthquake and tsunami in March that severely damaged the Fukushima nuclear facility in Japan, prompting Ms Merkel's review of nuclear policy.