Japan's woes prompt Venezuela to halt nuclear plan

President Hugo Chavez said Tuesday that the crisis at a Japanese nuclear plant after the country's catastrophic earthquake and tsunami have prompted him to halt Venezuela's plans to develop nuclear energy.

Chavez announced last year that his government was carrying out initial studies to start a nuclear energy program.

Russia's government had agreed to help Venezuela build a reactor last year during a visit to Moscow by Chavez. But Chavez said watching events unfold in Japan has prompted him to reconsider.

"It's something extremely risky and dangerous for the whole world because despite the great technology and advances that Japan has, look at what is happening with some nuclear reactors," Chavez said in a televised speech.

Chavez warned that radioactive material from Japan's damaged plants could pose a threat to neighbors such as China. "We pray to God that... it doesn't have serious impacts on the population of Japan and other neighboring nations," he said.

Chavez said he had ordered his vice president and energy minister to "freeze the plans that we have been moving forward with, some very preliminary studies" toward starting a nuclear program.

Chavez said he believes the problems at the Japanese nuclear reactors will make other countries aside from Venezuela reconsider the need for nuclear programs.

"I don't have the slightest doubt that this will alter... in a strong way nuclear energy development plans in the world," Chavez said. He also predicted that would increase demand for oil "in the short, medium and long term."

Venezuela is a major oil exporter.