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German Chancellor Angela Merkel responds to SIIA Chairman Simon Tay's question on nuclear energy [Business Times, 3 June 2011]

Updated On: Jun 03, 2011

(SINGAPORE) Having taken the decision to close down Germany's atomic plants by 2022, its Chancellor Angela Merkel had a piece of advice for Asian countries exploring the nuclear option: ensure the highest standards of safety.

She was speaking yesterday at an event organised by the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, which was chaired by Singapore Deputy Prime Minister and Finance and Manpower Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam.

On Wednesday, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that Singapore had not made a decision on nuclear energy yet but it remained an important option that needed careful study first.

Dr Merkel, who revealed that her country had brought forward the closure of its nuclear plants in light of the nuclear crisis in Japan, was asked by Singapore Institute of International Affairs chairman Simon Tay if she had advice for countries looking at the nuclear energy alternative.

'You have to be very careful about this kind of thing,' she said.

'One should not save money and cut corners. There should not be any compromises.'

She added that the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency should also look towards raising its profile in Southeast-Asia.

Sharing her own country's experience, Dr Merkel said at the annual Singapore Lecture that even before the March 11 earthquake and tsunami disaster that crippled the Fukushima nuclear power plant, Germany had already intended to phase out its dependency on nuclear energy.

'We had already taken the basic decision to use nuclear power as a bridging technology. What we were debating politically was whether we had a period of ten years or longer to gradually (phase out),' the 56-year-old told her audience of high-level civil servants, business leaders, diplomats and academics.

Germany - Europe's largest economy - became the first major industrial power, post-Fukushima, to declare its intent to go nuclear-free when it announced it would shut down all 17 of its nuclear reactors by 2022.

In her wide-ranging speech delivered in German, Dr Merkel also took pains to stress that the European Union was fully behind its shared euro currency even as the region struggled with a debt crisis that could send Greece into default.

'We don't have a euro problem in Europe. We have more of a debt problem. Financial markets doubt whether some EU states can manage their debt in the long-term,' she said.

Germany is committed to the euro, which is stable, she said as she described the outlook for her country's economy as 'very positive'. The euro has risen more than 17 per cent against the dollar in the past year, and this has hurt European exporters, said Dr Merkel.

'The euro is strong against the US dollar. We think sometimes even very strong, which doesn't help our exports,' she said.

When asked for her views on the International Monetary Fund's (IMF) succession plans following the resignation of Dominique Strauss-Kahn last month, Dr Merkel said that she supported French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde to fill the vacancy.

However, she was not against to non-European candidates taking on the top job in the future.

In the long run, she said, it would not be sustainable for the world to continue the long-standing practice of having an American head the World Bank and a European lead the IMF.

Noting that Mr Strauss-Kahn did not serve out his full term, she called for developing countries to take an 'objective and unbiased' look at Mrs Lagarde's credentials and not so much her nationality.

'What is important is that the best possible candidates should be heads of these very important global institutions,' she said.

'Mrs Lagarde as a finance minister enjoys an excellent reputation worldwide. She is an ideal embodiment of economic and political experience.'

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