This nation's wariness of nuclear power is exemplified in the small village of Biblis on the Rhine River, home to Germany's oldest nuclear reactor. While the plant is the village's biggest employer, many here were still incensed last fall when Merkel pledged to extend the life of the nation's nuclear power plants by 12 years beyond their original shutdown date in 2021 – breaking a popular deal forged by her predecessor, Gerhard Schröder, to bring a "comprehensive and irreversible" end to nuclear power here.
Resident Erhard Renz felt betrayed, angry, and ready to protest.
And now with the unfolding nuclear crisis in Japan, Mr. Renz has done just that, joining upwards of 50,000 Germans on Saturday in a 25-mile-long human chain from Stuttgart to Neckarwestheim nuclear plant to call for their nation to shutter its nuclear facilities.
"Japan shows that it will never ever be possible to run a nuclear plant that’s problem-free," says Renz. "The question is when the next catastrophe strikes."
Merkel said she would invite all 16 state premiers to Berlin – likely tomorrow – to coordinate federal- and state-level discussions on nuclear safety. She said the three-month suspension and review could lead to the country’s oldest nuclear plants, such as in Biblis, to be closed permanently.
"This changes the situation, including in Germany," Merkel said. "We have a new situation, and this situation must be thoroughly analyzed."
Her announcement is also seen as a political move at a time when polls show most Germans oppose nuclear power. It has become a hot button issue in the March 27 election in Baden-Württemberg state, a conservative stronghold that Merkel's party is in danger of losing for the first time in almost six decades. The timing of the Japanese crisis could further hurt the Christian Democrats at the poll.