ISSN 2330-717X

Japan Nuclear Disaster Sparks Heated EU Debate

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Japan’s nuclear reactor emergency triggered a wave of reactions in the European Union, with environment ministers urging stress tests on operating nuclear plants and MEPs calling for nuclear energy to be phased out.

While awaiting clearer information from Japan, EU ministers and experts in charge of energy and nuclear issues will meet today (15 March) in Brussels at the request of EU Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger.

They will mull the possible application of EU-wide stress tests for the 143 nuclear reactors currently operating on the bloc’s territory, and debate the wider issue of nuclear security in Europe.

EU environment ministers, gathered yesterday (14 March) in Brussels for a regular meeting, expressed support for a proposal from Austria to check the security of operating nuclear plants.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced the three-month suspension of a law aimed at prolonging the activity of old nuclear plants. Two of the 17 operating reactors in Germany are expected to be temporary shut down.

During the moratorium “the security of the situation will be assessed in view of what happened in Japan,” Merkel said during a press conference in Berlin.

The two main parties in the European Parliament, the European People’s Party (EPP) and the Social Democrats (S&D), called for security checks to be carried out at all nuclear plants in Europe.

Spanish and Portuguese environment representatives (both from socialist governments) went further and called for the gradual phase-out of nuclear energy, echoing the position of the Greens.

Britain, France and Italy asked for “calm”. France and the UK are the EU countries with the highest number of nuclear reactors, 58 and 19 respectively. Italy has no nuclear plants but has embarked on an ambitious nuclear programme to reduce its dependency on external energy sources.

EU Climate Action Commissioner Connie Hedegaard gave assurances that “all necessary measures will be taken,” but added that with 143 operating reactors, “nuclear power will be there for quite some time, whatever happens”.

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