Germany eyes first nuclear plant closures

15th March 2011, Comments 0 comments

Germany moved Tuesday to shut down its oldest nuclear reactors as Chancellor Angela Merkel convened crisis talks on the future of atomic energy in Europe's top economy in light of events in Japan.

On Monday Merkel had announced a three-month freeze on a postponement of more than a decade until the mid-2030s the date when the last of Germany's 17 nuclear reactors are switched off, pending a safety review.

"We cannot just go back to business as usual," Merkel had said. "Events in Japan ... teach us that risks that were thought to be completely impossible cannot in fact be completely ruled out."

Japan's government has said radiation levels near the Fukushima nuclear plant have reached levels harmful to human health, with four reactors having overheated and sparked explosions after Friday's earthquake and tsunami.

Merkel's announcement means that some of the country's oldest reactors, in operation since the mid-1970s, were set to be turned off.

The Neckarwestheim 1 reactor near Stuttgart in southwest Germany would already have been taken out of service if Merkel had not defied public opinion and extended last year operating times.

Others that could be shut down imminently include Biblis A south of Frankfurt and Isar I in Bavaria.

On Monday large numbers of people worried about nuclear safety -- more than 100,000 according to organisers -- took to the streets around the country.

A survey by public broadcaster ARD published on Tuesday had 53 percent of respondents saying all reactors should be taken out of service as soon as possible.

Seventy percent thought that an accident similar to that in Japan could happen in Germany, and 80 percent want Merkel to reverse the government's extension of operating times, the poll of 909 voters showed.

On Tuesday Merkel had talks in Berlin with premiers of the German states where there are nuclear plants, as well as the economy and environment ministers. They were due to address reporters at 11:30 am (1030 GMT).

© 2011 AFP

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