Environment Minister Angela Merkel sought on Monday to contain the political fallout from a nuclear contamination scandal by announcing a 10-point plan to improve security and transparency in the system.

Merkel, who has faced calls to resign over revelations of contaminated German nuclear waste shipments last week, has been given the firm backing of the German government."The loss of public confidence is considerable," Merkel told a news conference. She said the new plan involved improved supervision of the shipments and communication between government officials and nuclear utilities.

"This plan can help restore confidence in the security and responsibility for the use of high technology such as nuclear energy," Merkel said.

"Those who reject this are acting in a partisan political way or damaging Germany as an industrial location," she said.

Chancellery Minister Friedrich Bohl said the government stood firmly behind Merkel and that Chancellor Helmut Kohl would leave the issue in her hands.

Parliament will debate the matter Wednesday.

Opposition politicians have called on Kohl either to support Merkel or to fire her over the nuclear waste scandal.

The scandal, which erupted last week, concerns the shipment of spent fuel rods from nuclear power stations in Germany to reprocessing plants at La Hague in France and Sellafield in Britain and their return to Germany for storage.

Some of the containers used in transport since the 1980s were found to have had spots of contamination. In some cases, the level was thousands of times in excess of the legally acceptable limit.

Merkel suspended all such shipments pending an investigation, but she and industry officials insisted that there was never any risk to the public.

Violent protests in Germany over the nuclear waste shipments have led to the deployment of tens of thousands of police along the transport route.

Opposition Social Democrats (SPD), who seek a complete end to nuclear power, are leading Kohl's Christian Democrats in opinion polls ahead of a general election on September 27 and have seized on the waste shipments as a campaign issue.

Bohl tried to deflect the criticism of the government's support for nuclear power.

"The SPD should stop trying to confuse the responsibility," he said. "It lies clearly with the power plant operators. The government will demand an air-tight explanation."