Swiss suspend plans for new nuclear plants

Swiss Energy Minister said that people`s safety was the highest priority.

Last Updated: Mar 14, 2011, 22:44 PM IST

Bern: Switzerland abruptly
suspended plans to build and replace nuclear plants on Monday 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 authorisation 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

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 four nuclear power plants that produce about 40
percent of the country`s energy needs. It also has nuclear
research reactors.

Alarmed by the crisis in Japan, the European Union
called for a meeting on Tuesday of nuclear safety authorities
and operators to assess Europe`s preparedness in case of an

Austria`s Environment Minister Nikolaus Berlakovich
called for an EU-wide stress test to check whether nuclear
power stations are "earthquake-proof," much like European
banks have been tested for their ability to cope with
financial shocks.

"With the banks it has shown its value," Berlakovich
said. "Now, people are expecting personal security and that is
why there has to be a stress test for nuclear power plants."

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 percent of
Russia`s electricity generation, and the Kremlin has set a
target to raise its share to one-quarter by 2030.

Bureau Report