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Japan nuclear crisis sends ripples across Europe, causes rethink in Germany

The Japan nuclear crisis has 'consequences for the whole world,' German Chancellor Angela Merkel said today ahead of an emergency EU meeting on nuclear power.

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"Japan shows that it will never ever be possible to run a nuclear plant that’s problem-free," says Renz. "The question is when the next catastrophe strikes."

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Merkel faces political dilemma

Merkel said she would invite all 16 state premiers to Berlin – likely tomorrow – to coordinate federal- and state-level discussions on nuclear safety. She said the three-month suspension and review could lead to the country’s oldest nuclear plants, such as in Biblis, to be closed permanently.

"This changes the situation, including in Germany," Merkel said. "We have a new situation, and this situation must be thoroughly analyzed."

Her announcement is also seen as a political move at a time when polls show most Germans oppose nuclear power. It has become a hot button issue in the March 27 election in Baden-Württemberg state, a conservative stronghold that Merkel's party is in danger of losing for the first time in almost six decades. The timing of the Japanese crisis could further hurt the Christian Democrats at the poll.

"They know they are trapped in a dilemma. They know they cannot reverse what they said earlier, that all power plants are safe," says Marcel Viëtor, who is in charge of energy and climate issues at the German Council on Foreign Relations, a Berlin-based think tank. "The best solution they’ve found is to pull the break and buy time."

Politicians shift stance

Already, Japan's unfolding crisis has prompted prominent Christian Democrats to depart from the party stance on nuclear power.

"If we take it seriously and say the incident has changed the world – and much that we as an industrial society have regarded as safe and manageable is now in question – then we can't exclude anything," said EU Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger, a member of Merkel’s party.

Environment Minister Norbert Röttgen, another Christian Democrat, called on his party to discuss the nuclear energy anew. "The Christian Democrats cannot come up with answers from yesterday when the world today has changed."

Germany’s Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, who leads the coalition partner Free Democrats, said he could see Germany abandoning the lifespan extension of nuclear power plants as a consequence of the Japan disaster.

"We need a new safety analysis," Mr. Westerwelle said Monday at a party meeting in Berlin. "We will also discuss the consequences [of nuclear energy] in Germany, and we will negotiate and decide quickly."

IN PICTURES: Japan survivors


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