Chancellor Angela Merkel has rejected calls to reverse a decision to extend the use of nuclear power. Shutting down Germany's seven oldest plants for inspections showed that safety was the No. 1 priority, she said.
Under opposition fire: Chancellor Angela Merkel
Chancellor Angela Merkel used a speech to the lower house of parliament on Thursday to defend her government's policy on nuclear power.
In her address to the Bundestag, she said her government had demonstrated that safety was its top priority with its decision to shut down the country's seven oldest nuclear power plants for a period of at least three months.
"When in doubt, it's safety first," Merkel said.
The moratorium is to be used to conduct a series of safety inspections on the seven plants.
At the same time, the chancellor sought to allay fears that a nuclear meltdown similar to the one being experienced in Japan could happen in Germany, describing the country's power plants as "some of the safest in the world."
This did not satisfy the opposition Green party, in particular. The party's parliamentary leader, Jürgen Trittin, accused Merkel of overestimating the safety standards of Germany's plants.
"More than the three months set out by the government is needed for serious security inspections to be carried out," said Trittin, who like Merkel, is a former environment minister.
The chancellor rejected opposition calls to revoke her government's extension of the lives of Germany's nuclear power plants.
"What we need is a measured nuclear phase-out," she said, adding that it would be folly for Germany to shut down its plants too quickly and then be forced to import nuclear power from neighboring countries.
Germany's seven oldest plants will be closed for three months
But Merkel conceded that the events in Japan had cast a new light on the issue.
"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.
Solidarity with Japan
The chancellor also used her speech to express Germany's solidarity with Japan as it struggles to cope with the nuclear crisis, earthquake and subsequent tsunami.
"Whatever we can do, we will continue to do," Merkel said. The German people, she said were filled with "horror, consternation, sympathy and sadness" by what she described as a "catastrophe of apocalyptic dimensions."
Until last autumn, Germany had been on track to phase out the use of nuclear power by 2022, under legislation passed by the Social Democrat and Green Party coalition in 2002.
Author: Chuck Penfold (dpa, Reuters)
Editor: Nancy Isenson