BERLIN/BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Germany has asked Belgium to take two nuclear reactors temporarily offline while questions about their safety are cleared up, an unusual diplomatic move that underscores German concerns about the plants.
Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks said she asked Belgium to shut down its Tihange 2 and Doel 3 reactors after the Reactor Safety Commission that advises the ministry could not confirm the reactors would be safe in the event of a hazardous incident.
"I consider it right that the plants are temporarily taken offline at least until further investigations have been completed. I have asked the Belgian government to take this step," Hendricks said in a statement on Wednesday.
She added the move would send a strong signal to reassure Germany and show that Belgium is taking the concerns of its neighbors seriously.
Belgium's Energy Ministry declined to comment.
Spurred by the disaster at Japan's Fukushima plant in 2011, Germany pledged to abandon nuclear power generation completely by 2022 in favor of other power sources.
Belgium's Tihange 2 and Doel 3 nuclear reactors, both with about a gigawatt of capacity, remained closed for years after inspections unveiled tiny cracks in their core tanks.
In November last year, Belgium's nuclear watchdog cleared the restart of the two reactors, saying the cracks were hydrogen flakes trapped in the walls of the reactor tank and had no unacceptable impact on the safety.
Hendrick's comments are the highest profile criticism of the Belgian nuclear reactors so far in Germany, with the region around Aachen and the state of North Rhine-Westphalia having previously voiced their concern.
Last week, the state of North Rhine-Westphalia said it would join a lawsuit brought by the Aachen city region against the Tihange 2 reactor, which is roughly 65 kilometers (about 40 miles) away from the west German city.
Deputy Environment Minister Jochen Flasbarth told reporters the decision to make the request had not been taken lightly and that they would give the Belgian government time to respond.
The core tanks at the 33-year-old Doel 3 and Tihange 2 reactors were built by Dutch company Rotterdamsche Droogdok Maatschappij, which also made reactors in other countries.
(Reporting by Caroline Copley in Berlin and Robert-Jan Bartunek in Brussels; editing by Susan Thomas)