|German activists have been protesting against plans to extend the life of nuclear power plants [Reuters]
Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, has suspended plans to extend the life of the country's nuclear power plants, in response to the situation in Japan.
"If a highly developed country like Japan, with high safety standards and norms, cannot prevent the consequences for nuclear power of an earthquake and a tsunami, then this has consequences for the whole world," Merkel said on Monday as she announced that the decision would be delayed for three months.
"This changes the situation, including in Germany. We have a new situation, and this situation must be thoroughly analysed."
Opposition groups had been pressuring the government to scrap its decision, made last year, to extend the life of the country's 17 nuclear power plants by an average 12 years.
The stations were originally intended to be shut down in 2021, but the power industry had pushed to extend the lives of the ageing facilities.
Merkel said those facilities due to close in the next three months, before the extension would take place, will now be shut down, meaning Germany's oldest reactors, Neckarwestheim 1 und Biblis A, which begain in 1976 and 1975, could be closed down.
Under the original schedule they had been due to shut down this year. No new nuclear power stations have opened in Germany for decades due to public hostility, especially following the 1986 disaster when the Chernobyl plant in Ukraine exploded, sending radiation across much of Europe.
The nuclear crisis unfolding in Japan triggered protests in Germany on Saturday, where some 50,000 activists formed a human chain around the Neckarwestheim nuclear power plant. More gathered in Berlin on Monday over the issue.
Other European nations are also questioning their reliance on nuclear energy following the disaster.
In France, Green politicians have urged an end to nuclear fuel, and in Switzerland, the government also suspended plans to replace its ageing nuclear power plants.
The Federal Office for Energy said authorities decided to suspend ongoing procedures regarding authorisation requests for the replacement of nuclear power plants "until security standards can be carefully re-examined and, if necessary, adapted."
It added that its Federal Inspectorate for Nuclear Security had been ordered to "analyse the exact causes of the accident in Japan and to draw conclusions on possible stricter new standards."
However in Poland authorities said they would press on with plans to build the country's first nuclear reactor despite safety concerns out of Japan.
"A nuclear energy program is indispensable to ensure Poland's security so that industry does not have problems with electricity supply in the coming decades," Pawel Gras, a government spokesman told public broadcaster Polish Radio.
Warsaw has plans to build two 3,000 MW nuclear reactors, with the first scheduled to come on line by 2020.
"We are now looking for the best technologies and safety is one of our principal criteria," Gras said.