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Europe narrows nuclear options

Germany has halted plans to extend the life of its nuclear power plants after the Japanese disaster heightened fears about atomic energy safety in Europe.

Neighbouring Switzerland suspended its plans to build and replace nuclear plants and Austria's environment minister called for atomic stress tests to make sure Europe's nuclear facilities were "earthquake-proof."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said a decision last year to extend the life of the country's 17 nuclear power stations would be suspended for three months.

"During the moratorium, we will examine how we can accelerate the road to the age of renewable energy," she said.

The decision also means that two older nuclear power plants will be taken off the grid shortly - at least for now - pending a full safety investigation in the wake of the explosions at a nuclear plant in Japan.

The announcement, which came ahead of three German state elections in the next two weeks, fell short of opposition calls to scrap the extension of the plants' lifetimes altogether.

A previous government decided a decade ago to shut all 17 German nuclear plants by 2021 but Mrs Merkel's administration last year moved to extend their lives by an average 12 years.

Swiss Energy Minister Doris Leuthard said it would suspend all "blanket authorisation for nuclear replacement until safety standards have been carefully reviewed and if necessary adapted."

The Swiss had already approved three sites for new nuclear power stations after the plans were submitted in 2008.

Alarmed by the crisis in Japan, the European Union called for a meeting of nuclear safety authorities and operators to assess Europe's preparedness in case of an emergency.


From Belfast Telegraph