Germany to shut down pre-1980 nuclear plants - 10 of Germany's 17 nuclear plants to stay open -
* Only 10 of Germany's 17 nuclear plants to stay open
* About a third of German nuclear capacity to be shut down
* Merkel's conservatives face defeat in regional elections
* Opposition accuses Merkel of transparent trickery
(Adds details of capacity to be shut down, share falls)
By David Stamp
BERLIN, March 15 (Reuters) - Germany will shut down all seven of its nuclear power plants that began operating before 1980 at least till June, the government said on Tuesday, leaving open whether they will ever start up again after Japan's crisis.
Chancellor Angela Merkel announced the closures, which will leave only 10 nuclear stations still generating, under a nuclear policy moratorium imposed as Japan faced a potential catastrophe at its earthquake-crippled Fukushima complex.
"Power plants that went into operation before the end of 1980 will ... be shut down for the period of the moratorium," Merkel told a news conference, adding that the decision would be carried out by government decree as no agreement with the plants' operators had been reached.
Environment Minister Norbert Roettgen said it was not clear if the reactors to be shut down in the three-month moratorium would remain closed or be reconnected to the grid afterwards.
Merkel astonished German politicians on Monday by suspending an unpopular coalition decision taken only last autumn, under which the life of Germany's 17 nuclear power plants would be extended by years. [ID:nLDE72D1PN]
She drew accusations on Tuesday of transparent trickery for the move, with the opposition and media saying she was trying to avoid a regional election disaster later this month.
PANIC AND PARTY POLITICS
The seven ageing plants account for about a third of Germany's nuclear capacity. However, one of them has been offline since an accident in 2007, and another shut down last month for maintenance. [ID:nLDE72E0OD] [ID:nLDE72E1U0]
Business leaders urged caution when making major decisions on nuclear plants, which in total supply about a quarter of all electricity needed to power Europe's biggest economy. "Panic and party politics make bad advisers," said Hans Heinrich Driftmann, who heads the German Chamber of Industry and Trade.