Japan's nuclear crisis spurs Europe to review nuclear safety

15th March 2011, Comments 0 comments

Growing alarm over Japan's nuclear disaster is prompting several European nations to review the safety of their own nuclear installations, with Germany temporarily shutting down seven reactors pending a review.

As Japan's nuclear crisis escalated Tuesday with two more blasts and a fire rocking the quake-stricken Fukushima power plant, Chancellor Angela Merkel announced a safety review of Germany's 17 nuclear reactors and a three-month closure of seven of them.

"We are launching a safety review of all nuclear reactors ... with all reactors in operation since the end of 1980 set to be idled for the period of the (three-month) moratorium," Merkel said.

And the European Union, responding to soaring public concern, called a meeting of ministers, national safety chiefs and leaders of the powerful nuclear industry Tuesday to take a fresh look at nuclear safety across the continent as it tries to draw lessons from events in Japan.

With some 150 reactors scattered across Europe in half as many nuclear power plants -- some located in seismic areas -- the talks will include "thorough assessment of the situation" and "possible implications for the EU safety framework", said European energy commissioner Guenther Oettinger.

Monday, Japan's nuclear emergency prompted Switzerland to suspend plans to replace its ageing nuclear power plants.

The Swiss Federal Office for Energy said nuclear security experts had been ordered to "analyse the exact causes of the accident in Japan and to draw conclusions on possible stricter new standards."

Any authorisation requests to replace the country's five nuclear plants "cannot be evaluated before these clarifications," it added.

In Moscow, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin Tuesday ordered a review of the future of Russia's atomic energy sector in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan.

"I request that the energy ministry, nuclear agency and environment ministry carry out an analysis of the current condition of the atomic sector and an analysis of the plans for future development," he told an official meeting.

He said that Russia did not have atomic power stations built on earthquake fautlines and had no plans to build them there. "We need to be prepared to act in any eventuality," he added.

Putin's remarks mark the first time the Russian leadership has questioned the future of nuclear energy in Russia after the Japanese earthquake, which damaged the Fukushima nuclear power plant.

Russia is one of the world's most significant producers of nuclear energy and it also builds nuclear power stations abroad.

In Britain, the government asked its chief nuclear inspector to report on what implications the Japanese nuclear crisis could have for the country's nuclear energy sector.

"We take this incident extremely seriously even though there is no reason to expect a similar scale of seismic activity in the UK," Energy Minister Chris Huhne said.

He added that the report "will be prepared in close cooperation internationally with other nuclear regulators."

France's Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, speaking Tuesday at a Paris gathering of G8 powers, meanwhile highlighted the gravity of Japan's nuclear emergency.

"The situation is extremely serious... The risk is extremely high," said Juppe, after Japan's Takeaki Matsumoto briefed him and their other G8 counterparts on the situation Monday evening.

And responding to environmental concerns over France's own big nuclear power sector, Juppe said there should be a debate on safety but insisted that "to say to the French that we are going to give up nuclear power would be lying."

France with 58 nuclear reactors -- ranking second worldwide behind the United States -- produces most of its energy from nuclear plants.

Tuesday, the explosions and a fire at Japan's quake-hit nuclear plant unleashed dangerous levels of radiation.

Radiation levels around the Fukushima No.1 plant on the eastern coast had "risen considerably", Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan said, and his chief spokesman announced it had reached the point where it endangered human health.

© 2011 AFP

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