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News Wrap: Germany Shutters Aging Nuclear Reactors to Reconsider Energy Policy

March 15, 2011 at 7:07 PM EDT

KWAME HOLMAN: The nuclear crisis in Japan rippled across Europe today. Germany closed seven older reactors for three months to consider its nuclear policies. And France ordered safety checks at its 58 reactors.

In Washington, Energy Secretary Steven Chu said it’s too soon to say if the U.S. needs to make changes.

U.S. ENERGY SECRETARY STEVEN CHU: Let’s first learn about this. Are there going to be lessons learned? And I’m sure there will be. And then we look back at our reactive fleet, and we — and we up our game. Every time we do this, we march on to ever-increasing safety. And that’s what we have been doing in the industrial world for hundreds of years.

KWAME HOLMAN: Chu has been an advocate of nuclear power in the U.S. He said he believes Americans can have full confidence in this country’s safety procedures.

The nuclear crisis in Japan sent the Tokyo stock market plunging by nearly 11 percent, and the losses were felt all the way to Wall Street. The Dow Jones industrial average fell nearly 300 points, before coming back some. It ended with a loss of more than 137 points to close at 11,855. The Nasdaq fell 33 points to close at 2,667.

The price of oil also fell sharply to $97 a barrel over fears about Japan’s economy.

Libyan forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi recaptured two more strategic towns today. They seized control of Brega and pushed into Ajdabiya using tanks and airstrikes against the rebels. It put Gadhafi closer still to retaking Benghazi, the major city in the east.

Meanwhile, in Paris, the world’s major economic powers asked the U.N. to authorize aid to the rebels. But the diplomats balked at France’s calls for a no-fly zone

ALAIN JUPPE, French foreign minister: For the moment, I haven’t convinced them. France was, with Great Britain, leading this initiative. What’s the situation today? Gadhafi is scoring points.

If we had used military force last week to neutralize some airstrips and the several dozen planes that they have, perhaps the reversal taking place, to the detriment of the opposition, wouldn’t have happened.

KWAME HOLMAN: In Tripoli today, Gadhafi said the rebels now have two choices: Surrender or run away.

In Bahrain, the Sunni king declared martial law for the next three months in an effort to rein in Shiite protesters. That came a day after more than 1,000 troops from Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf nations entered the country. In Egypt, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged the Saudis to help promote a political solution.

Meanwhile, in Yemen, anti-government tribesmen killed four soldiers overnight near the Saudi border. Earlier, troops there fired on protesters.

The U.S. commander in Afghanistan reported today that coalition forces have blunted the Taliban’s drive. Gen. David Petraeus went before a Senate committee with his first
formal assessment since taking command last summer.

GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, International Security Assistance Force: The momentum achieved by the Taliban in Afghanistan since 2005 has been arrested in much of the country and reversed in a number of important areas. However, while the security progress achieved over the past year is significant, it is also fragile and reversible.

KWAME HOLMAN: Petraeus said the U.S. remains on track to begin drawing down forces this summer, as conditions permit.

Republican Sen. John McCain agreed with the accounts of military success, but he warned against a hurried exit.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-Ariz.): We need to be exceedingly cautious about withdrawal of U.S. forces this July, as the president has called for. And we should be mindful that perhaps the wisest course of action in July may be to reinvest troops from more secure to less secured parts of Afghanistan, where additional forces could have a decisive impact.

KWAME HOLMAN: Meanwhile, a new public opinion poll by The Washington Post and ABC News showed support for the military effort is falling. Nearly two-thirds of those questioned said the war no longer is worth fighting.

The Republican-led House has approved another stopgap measure to keep the federal government open for three more weeks. The bill included $6 billion in additional spending cuts.

Republicans and Democrats jousted over the merits of yet another short-term continuing resolution, known as a C.R.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-Ohio), speaker of the House: Several weeks ago, we moved a short-term continuing resolution that cut $4 billion. And, today, we will pass a resolution for three more weeks cutting $6 billion. Now, this is $10 billion. It’s a small down payment on our commitment to the American people that we would have real fiscal responsibility.

REP. JIM MCGOVERN (D-Mass.): The last C.R. was for two weeks. This is a three-week bill. So I guess the good news is that we’re heading in the right direction. But that’s about the only good news, Mr. Speaker. This is no way to run a budget process. It is no way to run a government. It’s like water torture, drip, drip, drip.

KWAME HOLMAN: The federal fiscal year began last Oct. 1, but Congress has yet to agree on long-term funding. This bill is expected to pass in the Senate later this week.

The last American veteran of World War I, Frank Buckles, was laid to rest today at Arlington National Cemetery outside Washington. The flag-draped coffin lay in honor inside the cemetery chapel. Hundreds of visitors filed past. And President Obama and Vice President Biden made an unscheduled stop to pay their respects.

Buckles died last month at his home in Charles Town, W.V. He was 110 years old.

Those are some of the day’s major stories.