BERLIN/ROME (Reuters) - Japan’s nuclear crisis spurred German Chancellor Angela Merkel to pledge a faster shift from nuclear power on Thursday and seemed to thwart Italy’s plans to reintroduce atomic energy.
Several other European nations, from Finland to Switzerland, have turned more skeptical about nuclear energy after Friday’s earthquake and tsunami crippled the Fukushima plant in the world’s worst nuclear accident since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.
In Berlin, Merkel dismissed allegations that she may have closed seven atomic plants illegally and told parliament that nuclear technology remained a transitional source of affordable power while renewable energy sources were developed further.
Earlier this week, she backtracked on an unpopular decision to extend the life of aging nuclear power stations, drawing scorn from the opposition which said she was only trying to avoid a major electoral setback in regional polls this month.
Under a “moratorium” announced on Tuesday, the government ordered the closure for safety checks of all seven of Germany’s nuclear plants which began operating before 1980 for at least three months.
“We will use the moratorium period, which we deliberately set to be short and ambitious, to drive the change in energy policy and accelerate it wherever possible, as we want to reach the age of renewable energy as quickly as possible,” she said.
Merkel backtracked on her government’s decision taken only last autumn to prolong the life of Germany’s total of 17 nuclear power plants beyond their original closure dates.
In Italy, the government called for time to reflect, apparently softening plans ahead of a planned June referendum on reintroducing nuclear power.
“From the information we have, the problem in Japan will not be easy to resolve,” Industry Minister Paolo Romani told reporters. “We should take a pause to reflect and above all, we cannot make choices which are not shared by everyone.”
“I think there is now less than 0.01 percent chance for nuclear in Italy,” said Luigi De Paoli, energy economy professor at the Bocconi University in Milan.
Italy’s worst earthquake since 1980 struck central Italy around the city of L‘Aquila in April 2009, killing more than 300 people and flattening whole towns.
A poll published earlier this week showed 53 percent of Italians were now against nuclear plans with only 35 percent in favor and 12 percent undecided. Polls previously showed the ‘No’ and ‘Yes’ camps each attracted roughly 45 percent.
Many European Union nations have been looking to nuclear power to meet ambitious goals for fighting global warming. Nuclear and renewable energies are responsible for a fraction of the emissions of fossil fuels.
In Jerusalem, Israeli officials said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was reconsidering plans to build a nuclear power plant in Israel in the wake of the crisis in Japan.
Netanyahu made the announcement in an interview to be aired later on Thursday on CNN’s Piers Morgan Tonight, according to a Twitter announcement by the show’s executive producer.
Israel last year began a study to determine the best way to construct the country’s first nuclear power plant, with a target date of 2025. Israel now has two reactors, including a secretive facility believed to have produced nuclear weapons.
In Poland, unease was growing among Poles living near the probable site of their country’s first atomic power plant after Japan’s disaster but the Polish government is adamant that nuclear power is safe and remains the best option.
“There is a fear that what happened in Japan could happen here. We would be closest to it so we would have the problems,” said Paulina Krypina, a young mother and resident of Zarnowiec which is a likely site of one of two plants.
In Turkey, environmental group Greenpeace said the country should abandon plans to launch nuclear power plants because it was close to geological fault lines.
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday said plans for a Russian-built plant on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast and a second one for its Black Sea coast, which is under discussion with Tokyo Electric Power Co and Toshiba, won’t be affected by the risk of a natural disaster like Japan’s quake.
The Czech Repubic said it saw no reason for safety checks at its two nuclear plants. Dana Drabova, head of the nuclear safety office, said it seemed premature to make “hasty decisions when we hardly know what happened” at Fukushima.
Writing by Alister Doyle in Oslo, Editing by Janet Lawrence