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Across Europe, Japan crisis provokes nuclear rethink

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Yet Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, capturing the public mood as Europeans watch the tops blown off of reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, calls the disaster “a turning point in the history of technology based society.”

Critics complain she’s pandering to voters. French leader Nicolas Sarkozy plans to raise nuclear safety as a major theme at the next G-20 that France heads; pound-for-pound France is the world’s nuclear leader, with 58 reactors.

Europe desires to be the premier Kyoto-adhering low carbon-emitting civilization, and its utilities increasingly forecast nuclear power as part of the mix. The relatively minor accidents since Chernobyl, promises of improved safety, and arguments of reduced global warming and coal-fired power have brought billions in EU loans for new nuclear projects.

But the renaissance comes directly in the face of events at Fukushima Daiichi. Ms. Merkel ordered the shut down of seven plants, and EU energy chief Mr. Oettinger even hinted the “possibility” of a “foreseeable future” without nuclear reactors in Europe, though critics said he was speaking ahead of himself.

Still, amid Japan’s agony, Switzerland’s energy ministry said Tuesday it will put on hold three planned reactors.

Italian officials and representatives of its public utility Enel vowed Monday to move forward with a $25 billion joint French project to build four reactors. Italy voted no to nuclear in 1987. And now, despite government efforts to restart nuclear projects, with 63 percent of Italians opposed to reactors in one of Europe’s more severe earthquake nations, a June referendum could permanently scotch the project.

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