European governments have ordered safety reviews of their nuclear plants following the crisis in quake and tsunami-hit Japan.

On Wednesday Francois Fillon, the French prime minister, requested safety checks of the country''s 58 nuclear reactors to determine their resistance to natural disasters.

Spain has also said it will review security measures at its six nuclear power plants, as an environment group urged the government to close the country''s oldest reactor.

Miguel Sebastian, the country''s industry minister, said the review would include a "supplementary seismic survey as well as a study on the risk of flooding".

Britain, Russia, Finland and Bulgaria have also ordered reviews on their nuclear facilities, in line with a call by Guenther Oettinger, the EU energy commissioner, for stress tests on all of Europe''s nuclear power stations.

He also raised the prospect of a nuclear-free future for the European Union.

Green lobby

The unfolding crisis in Japan has also given strength to anti-nuclear lobby groups across Europe.

Earlier this week the German government suspended plans to extend the life of its nuclear power plants, and on Tuesday announced the immediate closure at least seven nuclear power reactors which started operating before 1980 until at least June this year.

On Wednesday a renewable energy lobby group said it could supply nearly half the country''s power requirements by 2020 with wind, solar, hydro and biomass power in an attempt to provide an alternative to nuclear energy.

"Renewables could be ready to provide 47 per cent of German power supply up to 2020. This way they would not just compensate for the nuclear withdrawal [meant to happen by 2021] but in addition offer affordable and sustainable power," the BEE group said.

Switzerland also suspended the approval process for three new nuclear power stations in order to revisit safety standards, its energy minister said on Monday, while in Bulgaria the government may freeze its Belene nuclear project.

But a number of countries are pressing on with their nuclear ambitions. Italy, which said on Wednesday it would not stand in the way of any future EU plans to phase out nuclear energy, still continued with moves to relaunch its nuclear sector. Poland and Turkey have also said they are going ahead with plans to build their first nuclear reactors.

"We are now counting the months, even weeks, before we start our project with Russia for the nuclear plant at Akkuyu," on Turkey''s Mediterranean coast, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, said late on Tuesday.

Analysts also believe that Russia will "never renounce its nuclear objectives" despite concerns about some of its reactors.

Source: Agencies