On Tuesday, Germany announced the temporary shutdown of seven of its oldest nuclear reactors pending a safety review.
“We are launching a safety review of all nuclear reactors … with all reactors in operation since the end of 1980 set to be idled for the period of the (three-month) moratorium,” Chancellor Angela Merkel said in a statement.
Germany said 10 years ago that it would be nuclear-free by 2020, which has since been postponed until the mid-2030s by Merkel’s government.
Japan’s government said that radiation levels near the Fukushima nuclear plant reached levels harmful to humans. It has advised people to stay indoors after two explosions and a fire at the facility Tuesday.
Four of the six reactors at the Japanese plant have overheated and sparked explosions since Friday’s 8.9 magnitude earthquake.
“After this moratorium, which will run until June 15… we will know how to proceed,” Merkel said in a statement after crisis talks in Berlin took place with premiers of German states where there are nuclear plants.
She said that Berlin would use the time to discuss what to do with radioactive waste, boosting renewable energies, and international safety standards for nuclear power.
“Safety standards in Germany are one thing, they are important, but safety standards in Europe, being able to compare then, and international safety standards are also important,” Merkel said.
Germany’s older plants include one in Bavaria, two near Frankfurt and two in Baden-Wuettemberg.
ARD published a surveyed on Tuesday that had 53 percent of respondents saying all reactors should be taken out of service as soon as possible.
The poll showed that 70 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.
German citizens have been uneasy about the safety of nuclear power, with shipments of nuclear waste regularly attracting angry protests.
Germany relies on nuclear power for 23 percent of its energy needs. It is the first European country to take these measures after explosions at Japan’s Fukushima plant sparked safety concerns.
Guenther Oettinger, the European Union energy commission, said in an interview with ARD television that Germany’s move raises the prospect of a nuclear-free Europe.
“It has to raise the question of whether we in Europe, in the foreseeable future, can secure our energy needs without nuclear power,” he said.