BERLIN (Reuters) - The German government should scrap its plans to extend nuclear energy by an average of 12 years as a result of the disaster in Japan, Environment Minister Norbert Roettgen said in an interview published on Sunday.
Roettgen, a senior member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats, told the Super Illu magazine Germany should instead stick to a previous plan that called for nuclear power in Germany to be switched off by about 2022.
"We're correcting our decision from last autumn," Roettgen said, referring to the center-right's government law to extend the use of nuclear energy by about 12 years beyond 2022.
"We've got to clearly spell out this change of direction and it has to be carried out," he added.
Roettgen, who has faced criticism in his party in the past for resisting a longer extension of nuclear power, went further than Merkel and other government leaders with his call to scrap the extension. Other ministers have opposed any quick decisions.
Merkel's government ordered the shutdown of over 7,000 megawatt (MW) of nuclear capacity on March 15 until at least June after a tsunami crippled a Japanese plant.
Germany's temporary closure of seven nuclear reactors may be the precursor for a faster-than-planned exit from nuclear altogether as voter majorities shift against it.
Within days of the disaster in Japan, Merkel's conservative government said it would reconsider a decision to delay closing the nation's aging nuclear stations by an average of 12 years and it ordered wide-ranging security checks.
In the face of growing public hostility, industry experts say the three-month moratorium could lead to permanent closure for the country's seven oldest plants. Germany gets about 23 percent of its energy from nuclear power.
On Friday, the leader of Germany's BDEW utility industry association said for the first time that the group favored a speedy and complete exit from nuclear power by 2020.
Hildegard Mueller, the director of the BDEW, wrote in a guest column in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) that the association wants Germany to shut down its nuclear power plants by 2023 at the latest.
(Reporting by Erik Kirschbaum; Editing by Jon Loades-Carter)