Berlin: Germany has suspended a coalition agreement to delay closing the nation`s ageing nuclear power stations, Chancellor Angela Merkel has said after the Japanese crisis stiffened opposition to an unpopular deal.
Last year, the coalition agreed to prolong the life of the 17 nuclear plants - the oldest of which is 34 years old - beyond their original planned closure dates. On Monday Merkel said this agreement would now be suspended for three months.
As Japanese engineers struggle to avoid a meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear complex, Merkel faces a backlash on her nuclear policy before elections in the southwestern state of Baden-Wuerttemberg later this month.
Her conservative CDU party risks losing power in the state, partly because of rising support for the Greens.
"We will suspend the extension of the life of Germany`s nuclear power stations, which was decided only recently. The moratorium will last for three months," Merkel told a news conference, saying safety tests would be applied "without taboos".
The government had decided to keep the nuclear plants - operated by E.ON, RWE, EnBW and Vattenfall - running for about 12 years beyond their original shutdown date, despite protests even before the earthquake and tsunami hit Japan on Friday.
Merkel said that nuclear plants which, before the extension deal was struck last year, had been scheduled to close in the next three months, would now be shut down after all.
She did not name the plants. But a coalition source said Germany`s two oldest reactors, EnBW-operated Neckarwestheim 1 and RWE`s Biblis A, would close. Under the original closure schedule these two, which began operation in 1976 and 1975 respectively, had been due to close this year.
Merkel said she was not worried about Germany`s electricity supply as the country was a net exporter of energy.
Germany had been due to go nuclear-free after the last plant reached the originally planned end of its life in 2021. But pressure, largely from the power industry, grew to keep the stations open.
Last year`s agreement was supposed to end months of division on the issue between the CDU and its junior coalition partner, the Free Democrats.
No new nuclear power stations have opened in Germany for decades because of public hostility, especially after the 1986 disaster when the Chernobyl plant in Ukraine exploded, spewing radiation across much of Europe.
Germany`s most modern reactor started up in 1989.