Japan’s nuclear catastrophe has rekindled debates on the recent revival of nuclear programmes across Europe. The push to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in response to the global climate change agenda that has brought about a “nuclear renaissance” of sort in Europe in recent years as several countries began to explore nuclear power as an alternative to fossil fuels is coming to a standstill
Nuclear technology offers the possibility of large quantities of baseload electricity that is cleaner than coal, more secure than gas and more reliable than wind. The case for nuclear energy has been further strengthened with endorsements from environmentalists such as leading British scientist James Lovelock and Greenpeace founder Patrick Moore. The unfolding nuclear crisis in Japan has brought to the fore the central issue of safety and the danger nuclear plants pose to their citizens, in the event of natural disasters or terrorist attacks Some 150 reactors are scattered across the continent in 75 nuclear power plants, some of which are located in seismic areas.
it is understandable why EU citizens are concerned. This is especially so in Germany, where original plans to phase out 17 nuclear reactors by 2020 have been extended till the mid 2030s, a policy led by current Chancellor Angela Merkel. Unhappy with the decision, 50,000 anti-nuclear protestors formed a 45km-long human chain from Stuttgart to Neckarwestheim power plant.
Many view the change in nuclear strategy as a bone of contention for the upcoming Baden-Württemberg regional elections, where the CDU, Chancellor Merkel’s party, is said to be losing support. But others such as Alliance ‘90/The Greens party co-chairperson Claudia Roth feels that it is the manner in which they brush aside concerns over future nuclear disasters, rather than the occurrence of the tragedy in Japan, that is making this unethical and irresponsible. Germany has now shut down 7 nuclear power plants temporarily, while they conduct safety checks on their remaining plants. Chancellor Merkel has also stated that the Germany’s energy policy will be carefully reviewed in the next three months.
In a move headed by nuclear-free Austria, a meeting of EU energy ministers hosted by the European Commission in Brussels convened on Tuesday. Concerned with his country’s safety, the Austrian Environment Minister Nikolaus Berlakovich has pushed for the need of “stress tests”, while continually urging nearby Slovenia and Slovakia to shut down their nuclear plants.
EU national nuclear safety officials and large national nuclear companies also attended the meeting where current nuclear projects were reassessed. The meeting also resulted in an agreement to conduct voluntary “stress tests” (on the continent’s nuclear power plants to check if the plants were stable and safe enough to withstand earthquakes, tsunamis as well as terrorist attacks.
France, which has always sought to export its nuclear expertise has the most nuclear reactors in the world after the United States, with 19 plants and 58 reactors. They hope to work towards harmonising safety standards across the bloc, according to Environment Minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet.
In Spain, the environmental umbrella group Ecologists in Action urged the government to close the country’s oldest nuclear reactor at the Jose Cabrera nuclear power station near Guadalajara in central Spain, following the worrying situation in Japan.
Despite the fears sparked by the ongoing crisis in Japan (, Poland has decided to continue with plans to build its first nuclear power plants. Sweden’s Radiation Safety Authority has also announced that their plans to modernise ten reactors at three nuclear power plants are still ongoing.
For more information on the EU nuclear safety situation –
Japan crisis: Germany speeds up nuclear exit – BBC, 17 March 2011
Japan’s nuclear crisis spurs Europe to review nuclear safety – AFP, 16 March 2011
EU to apply stress tests on its nuclear plants – AP, 16 March 2011
Nuclear power plants shut down in Germany – BBC, 15 March 2011
Europe split over nuclear safety amid Japan crisis – Reuters, 14 March 2011