By Stephen Brown
BERLIN (Reuters) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel's nuclear exit strategy is cutting into popular support for her conservatives, alienating coalition partners and boosting Greens in the opposition, a new opinion poll showed on Wednesday.
The Forsa survey had the anti-nuclear Greens surging ahead to 27 percent, giving them and their Social Democrat (SPD) allies a combined 49 percent versus just 35 percent for Germany's ruling Christian Democrat-Free Democrat coalition.
Merkel's conservatives have dropped two to three points to 30 percent in recent weeks, according to Forsa and other polls, coinciding with her end of May decision to scrap all nuclear generators by 2022, a U-turn spurred by Japan's nuclear crisis.
Some analysts see Merkel's change of heart on nuclear power -- as recently as late last year she wanted the lifespan of the oldest of Germany's 17 nuclear plants extended, saying they were safe -- as preparation for a future alliance with the Greens.
The Free Democrats, her current junior coalition partner, only manages 5 percent in most polls, a far cry from 14.6 percent in the 2009 election when the FDP helped Merkel secure a second term. The pro-business party has done badly in state elections this year while the Greens advanced in huge bounds.
The next German general election is scheduled for 2013, probably in September or October of that year.
MERKEL COOL ON SHIFT TO GREENS
The chancellor herself has played down talk of any transfer of political affections from the FDP to the Greens, whose more traditional partner on the center-left would be the SPD.
But the Greens have now overtaken the SPD -- who shared power with Merkel in a "Grand Coalition" in 2005-09 -- as Germany's second biggest party. The Greens won their first state premiership this year in Baden-Wuerttemberg, a traditional stronghold of Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU).
"If the conservatives keep flirting with the Greens, it could cause a meltdown in the party," said Forsa director Manfred Guellner, in comments accompanying the poll.
One further potential source of instability for Merkel's government is the FDP's discomfort with her accelerated nuclear exit strategy. The FDP regards itself as the defender of German business and reflects this sector's concerns about the impact on energy prices and the stability of the electricity grid.
"It is not pure FDP policy," said party secretary-general Christian Lindner, referring to the exit strategy, though he later had to clarify that the party backs the overall energy strategy but disagrees with certain aspects of it.
"There is a whole series of non-free market instruments that we have to accept for coalition reasons," Lindner complained in an interview with a Cologne newspaper.
The head of Germany's biggest power utility, RWE, wrote to Merkel on Tuesday urging her to respect nuclear output quotas promised to companies prior to the latest exit strategy.
RWE's peer, E.ON, has said it faces extra financial damages from the fixed shut-off dates, which came in contrast to assumptions that all reactors would run up to 2021-22, and would seek compensation.
(Additional reporting by Thorsten Severin and Vera Eckert; writing by Stephen Brown; editing by Mark Heinrich)