Swiss suspend plans for new nuclear plants

BERN, SWITZERLAND - Switzerland abruptly suspended plans to build and replace nuclear plants as two hydrogen explosions at a tsunami-stricken Japanese facility spread jitters about atomic energy safety in Europe.

Energy Minister Doris Leuthard said the suspension would affect all “blanket authorization for nuclear replacement until safety standards have been carefully reviewed and if necessary adapted.” Swiss regulatory authorities had given their stamp of approval to three sites for new nuclear power stations after the plans were submitted in 2008.

“Safety and well-being of the population have the highest priority,” said Leuthard, who instructed the Swiss Federal Nuclear Safety Inspectorate to analyze the exact cause of the accidents in Japan and draw up new or tougher safety standards “particularly in terms of seismic safety and cooling.”

Leuthard said no new plants can be permitted until those experts report back. Their conclusions would apply not only to planned sites, but also existing plants. Switzerland now has five nuclear reactors that produce about 40 per cent of the country's energy needs.

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.

Austria's Environment Minister Nikolaus Berlakovich called for an EU-wide stress test “to see if our nuclear power stations are earthquake proof.”

In Germany, Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle called for a new risk analysis on his country's nuclear power plants, particularly regarding their cooling systems. A previous government decided a decade ago to shut all 17 German nuclear plants by 2021 but Chancellor Angela Merkel's administration last year moved to extend their lives by an average 12 years.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said his government won't revise its ambitious program of building new nuclear reactors but will “draw conclusions from what's going on in Japan,” according to Russian news agencies.

Nuclear power currently accounts for 16 per cent of Russia's electricity generation, and the Kremlin has set a target to raise its share to one-quarter by 2030. Russia would have to build a total of 40 new reactors to fulfill the goal.


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