Germany suspends nuclear plant extension plan

Announcing her government's decision, Chancellor Angela Merkel said that the "shocking and perplexing events in Japan taught us that risks until now we thought will never happen, cannot be completely ruled out."

If such a disaster could not be averted in a highly advanced country like Japan, then it has great consequences for the nations around the world, including Germany, she said. The nuclear crisis in Japan has created an entirely new situation and therefore it must be analysed "thoroughly and without any reservation."

The government decision comes after thousands of people took to the streets at the weekend demanding an early phasing out of the reactors. Germany's opposition parties and anti-nuclear campaigners had fiercely opposed the  government's plans to extend the lifespan of the reactors on an average by 12 years when it was passed by the cabinet about six months ago and after its parliamentary endorsement signed into law by President Christian Wulff at the end of last year.

That decision revoked a deadline set by an earlier coalition government of Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the Green Party in 2002 to phase out all reactors by 2020. Chancellor Merkel emphasised that the three-month "moratorium" did not mean a reversal of her government's decision to extend the lifespan of the country's reactors and the government has no plans to change the law. However, two of the older reactors could be phased out when the moratorium begins, she said.

Extending the life of the reactors has been the centre-piece of the government's new energy policy and the government was determined to press ahead with its plan, in spite pf growing opposition from the public. Recent opinion polls showed that more than 70 per cent of the population are against keeping the reactors until the mid-2030s as planned by the government.

A government-appointed commission of experts will investigate every aspects of the reactor safety systems during the three-month period in cooperation with the energy companies operating the plants.

During this period, the government will also examine ways to boost the generation of renewable energy and to increase its share in the present energy mix, Merkel said. The chancellor said she will press for an agreement on common nuclear reactor safety standards for all member-nations of the European Union.

Germany's opposition parties criticised the government plans as a "tactical manoeuvre" ahead of three state elections in the coming weeks. Opinion polls predicted that Merkel's CDU might lose control over the state of Baaden Wuerttemberg, a party stronghold for several decades.

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