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DEVASTATION IN JAPAN

EU calls for stress tests on nuclear plants

Demonstrators protested Germany’s nuclear power policy yesterday in Berlin with signs that read “switch off.’’ Demonstrators protested Germany’s nuclear power policy yesterday in Berlin with signs that read “switch off.’’ (Axel Schmidt/Associated Press)
By Raf Casert and Geir Moulson
Associated Press / March 16, 2011

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BRUSSELS — Shocked into action by Japan’s atomic crisis, European energy officials agreed yesterday to apply stress tests on nuclear power plants and Germany moved to switch off seven aging reactors — one of them permanently.

The European Union’s energy chief called for a reassessment of the 27-nation bloc’s policies, and questioned what role nuclear power should have in the future.

“We have to ask ourselves: ‘Can we in Europe, within time, secure our energy needs without nuclear power plants?’ ’’ Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger told German ARD television.

In the United States, Energy Secretary Steven Chu told a House panel that the nuclear disaster unfolding in Japan will eventually help the United States strengthen safety at its 104 commercial reactors.

“The American people should have full confidence that the United States has rigorous safety regulations in place to ensure that our nuclear power is generated safely and responsibly,’’ Chu said, adding that the administration “is committed to learning from Japan’s experience.’’

He said that US reactors are designed to meet standards above what would be required to withstand a worst-case earthquake and tsunami.

In Europe, energy ministers, nuclear regulators, and industry officials meeting in Brussels found “general agreement’’ on the need for tough tests to check whether the European Union’s 143 nuclear reactors could withstand earthquakes and other emergencies, Oettinger said.

The stress tests will be devised using the strictest nuclear standards in the bloc and be applied in the second half of 2011, he said, adding that plants that fail would have to shut down.

Meanwhile, Russia signed another deal with Belarus yesterday to build a nuclear power station there. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said the facility would be safer than the one threatened by a meltdown in Japan.

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