Sizewell nuclear power station facing new safety tests

STRESS tests have been ordered to be carried out on Sizewell B's nuclear plant in the wake of blasts, fires and radioactive leaks at reactors in Japan.

The move was made on Tuesday by the European Union in Brussels.

All the EU's 143 nuclear plants will be involved in the tests, which will be carried out by the end of the year, the European Commission said.

A voluntary accord struck at EU talks was designed to bolster current high safety standards in the wake of the 'terrible events' unfolding in Japan, said EU Energy Commissioner Gunther Oettinger.

'This is a reassessment of all potential risks – earthquakes, tsunamis, terror attacks, cooling systems and operational activities, hazards including power cuts in situ, requirements for back-up systems, and design structures of nuclear power plants,' he said.

Japan's earthquake and tsunami, and the country's intensifying nuclear crisis, earlier led Germany to halt for three months plans to extend the life of its 17 nuclear power plants as the disaster spread worry about atomic energy safety in Europe.

Switzerland suspended its plans to build and replace nuclear plants and Austria's environment minister called for tests to make sure Europe's nuclear facilities were 'earthquake-proof.'

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel said: 'During the moratorium, we will examine how we can accelerate the road to the age of renewable energy.'

In Japan, an air of panic swept parts of the country as scientists fought radiation leaks at earthquake-damaged reactors at Fukushima which were made worse by a new explosion and two fires at the plant. One of the blazes, in the outer housing of a Unit 4 reactor containment vessel, erupted last night and was still being fought this morning.

Experts said there could not be a Chernobyl-style disaster, but more than 140,000 people were warned to seal themselves indoors.

The developments fuelled fears in Japan and around the world amid widespread uncertainty over what would happen next.

At least 10,000 people are believed to have been killed in the country's catastrophe and millions were facing a fifth night with little food, water or heating in near-freezing temperatures.

In Britain, Energy Secretary Chris Huhne accused other European governments of 'rushing to judgments' over the safety of nuclear power in the wake of the Japan crisis.

He took a swipe at 'continental politicians' hours after Germany announced it would close down seven older reactors – perhaps permanently.

But, at a House of Commons energy and climate change committee meeting, he also insisted he was right to order a UK safety review amid warnings from MPs it could hit investment in a planned new generation of domestic nuclear power stations.

Committee chairman Tim Yeo, the MP for South Suffolk, asked him to 'guard against' taking steps that were 'not strictly necessary' as was sometimes the case when a climate surrounding a situation bordered on 'hysteria.'