The events at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station in Japan have already impacted nuclear policies worldwide. Germany has shut down its oldest nuclear plants for a safety review. China and Switzerland have suspended the approval processes to build new reactors and safety reviews have been ordered in many countries.

On 15 March, German Chancellor Angela Merkel ordered the immediate shutdown of seven reactors built before 1980 for rigorous safety reviews. China has also suspended construction of new nuclear power plants until “revised safety standards are approved.”

Merkel also placed a three-month moratorium on the recently agreed extension to the operating lives of Germany’s nuclear power plants. Reactors built before 1980 were to have operating lives extended by eight years, with a 14-year extension for younger plants.

The seven German reactors that have been shut down (Biblis A and B, Neckarwestheim 1, Philipsburg 1, Brunsbüttel, Isar 1 and Unterweser) will remain closed for three months, to allow for a “period of reflection and action”, according to federal environment minister Norbert Röttgen. The reactors, with a combined output of 7.4Gwe, make up over a third of Germany’s nuclear capacity and supply almost 9% of the country’s electricity.

China has suspended the approval process for nuclear power stations so that safety standards can be revised after explosions at the Japanese plant, according to an executive meeting of the State Council, or the cabinet, on Wednesday 16 March.

The State Council has asked relevant departments to carry out comprehensive safety checks at existing plants, saying that safety is its top priority in developing nuclear power plants. China has 27 new reactors under construction and has 11 operating reactors at six nuclear sites.

Meanwhile, the European Commission has agreed on the introduction of safety “stress tests” at nuclear power plants in Europe. The “stress tests” will be defined and adopted by June and should be carried out during the second half of 2011. However the tests would be made on a voluntary basis since nuclear safety is an area of shared competences between the EU and its Member States.

Belgian energy minister, Paul Magnette, said that the decision to extend the lifetime of the country’s NPPs would be put on hold until “stress tests” had been carried out.

In Switzerland, the government has suspended the approval process for the construction of three new NPPs in order to review safety standards. The Swiss Federal Nuclear Safety Inspectorate (ENSI) has also been required to carry out safety evaluations at Switzerland’s existing NPPs.

Italy and Poland said that they would stick to their plans to build their first nuclear plant by 2020, although in Italy a referendum on the issue is expected to be held in June. The Dutch and the Czech governments said they would carry on their new-build plans. In Sweden, the prime minister said that the government would not reconsider its decision to replace nuclear reactors at the end of their lifetime.

Many other countries including India, Russia, USA and the United Kingdom will carry out assessments into the safety of their plants and look to see if lessons can be learned from the events at Fukushima.

In the UK, the government has asked the safety regulator to report on the implications of the events in Japan; an interim report is expected by mid May 2011, with a final report within six months.

In the USA utilities will carry out detailed inspection, verification and validation of the protocols associated with major events including earthquake, tsunami, complete loss of site power, loss of multiple safety systems, major aircraft impacts and flooding. In addition they will carry out detailed assessments to determine if any additional equipment is needed, where it should be located and if modifications to facilities are required in order to ensure public safety if such an event occurs.

Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin has the Energy Ministry, Rosatom, and the Ministry of Natural Resources to review the current condition, future plans and development prospects for the nuclear industry, and to submit the results of the review to the government. He has also asked for the acceleration of oil and gas projects, particularly in the Far East, to help Japan fulfil its shortfall in nuclear power production.

FilesReactor-by-reactor, system-by-system summary from JAIF on 19 March