Cautions about nuclear energy in China, France

Associated Press
In this image released by Tokyo Electric Power Co., smoke billows from the No. 3 unit among four housings cover four reactors at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex in Okumamachi, Fukushima Prefecture, northeastern Japan, on Tuesday, March 15, 2011. Japan ordered emergency workers to withdraw from its stricken nuclear complex Wednesday amid a surge in radiation, temporarily suspending efforts to cool the overheating reactors. Hours later, officials said they were preparing to send the team back in. (AP Photo/Tokyo Electric Power Co.) EDITORIAL USE ONLY
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Japan's nuclear crisis reverberated in atomic power-friendly countries Wednesday, with China saying it would hold off on approving new nuclear plants and French lawmakers questioning top energy executives about the safety of their reactors.

Some governments have put their nuclear future on hold, at least for now, as concerns grow even among pro-nuclear governments about reactor safety around the world. Japanese emergency workers are desperately struggling to cool overheating reactors after a series of explosions and amid leaking radiation from a nuclear plant crippled after last week's earthquake and tsunami.

China's Cabinet said Wednesday the government will suspend approvals for nuclear power stations to allow for a revision in safety standards. The State Council said in a statement following a meeting Wednesday that it has ordered the relevant departments to conduct safety checks at existing plants and at those that are under construction.

The suspension and safety checks will allow China's communist leaders to allay any concerns among the public about the safety of nuclear power without derailing plans to double nuclear energy's share of national power generation to high single digits by 2020.

A top Chinese official said earlier this week that Japan's problems would not deter China from expanding nuclear power generation.

China has 13 nuclear power plants in use now and ambitiously plans to add potentially hundreds more. Beijing has been focusing on clean energy generation, including solar, hydropower, wind and nuclear, as one way to reduce the country's reliance on coal, a major pollutant.

In France, the heads of both houses of parliament ordered a legislative investigation into "the future of the French nuclear industry."

An emergency meeting scheduled Wednesday in the lower house of parliament was to include the chiefs of nuclear reactor builder Areva and Electricite de France, the world's biggest operator of nuclear plants.

France was among the few countries to continue developing nuclear power after Chernobyl. It is more dependent on nuclear energy than any other country and its companies market nuclear technology around the world, including to China, Japan and the United States.

European Union energy officials agreed Tuesday to apply stress tests on plants across the 27-nation bloc and Germany moved to switch off seven aging reactors.

In Spain, Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero told reporters Wednesday that studies have been commissioned to determine how vulnerable his country's six nuclear plants are to earthquakes or flooding.

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Associated Press writers Gillian Wong in Beijing and Daniel Woolls in Madrid contributed to this report

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