Business, Economics and Jobs

Japan nuclear crisis prompts German rethink


Anti-nuclear activists walk past the Reichstag following a demonstration on March 14, 2011 in Berlin, Germany.


Sean Gallup

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Monday that plans to extend the life of the country’s ageing nuclear power stations would be suspended in the wake of the atomic crisis that has hit Japan in the wake of a major earthquake and tsunami.

"The events in Japan have taught us that something, which all scientific data suggested to be impossible, could become a reality after all," Merkel said in Berlin, according to Deutsche Welle. She said a decision on the fate of the power stations would be delayed three months.

Merkel said that facilities that had been due to close in the next three months, ahead of any extension would be shut down with immediate effect. This means its oldest reactors, Neckarwestheim 1 and Biblis A, which entered service in 1976 and 1975, are likely to shut, Al Jazeera said.

Nuclear power has been a controversial issue for decades in Germany, the New York Times said. Merkel’s center-right coalition is committed to a nuclear energy program but, the Times says: “Opinion polls regularly suggest that up to 70 percent of Germans oppose nuclear power.”

Merkel on Saturday insisted Germany’s power stations were safe, but ordered safety checks after conceding, as the Guardian reported, “Germany can’t just carry on as if nothing has happened.”

Tens of thousands of people joined a protest on Saturday in the city of Stuttgart to demand that Merkel’s government abandon its plans to expand the life of the country’s 17 atomic power stations by 12 years. More demonstrated in Berlin on Monday.

“Germans are infuriated by the disaster in Japan, a clear sign that nuclear power has its risks,” Time said. “And although some scientists are downplaying the dangers of nuclear power, Germans still remain gravely concerned over the consequences.”

The nuclear issue threatens to become a wider political problem, according to the Wall Street Journal, which says that although elections are not for another two years, Merkel may lose crucial votes to the nuclear-skeptic Green party.

"The population sees the Greens as being most competent in the nuclear question", Roland Sturm, a professor for political science at Erlangen-Nuernberg university told the paper. "That can influence the elections."

Meanwhile the European Union said it has called an emergency meeting for Tuesday to assess Europe’s ability to deal with a Japan-style nuclear emergency “in case of similar incidents.”

“The aim is to get first hand information on contingency plans and safety measures in place,” it said in a statement.

-- Barry Neild