Germany delays nuclear plans as Japanese meltdown fears rise
14.03.11 @ 19:42
BRUSSELS - Germany has suspended plans to extend the life of the country's nuclear plants, as fears of a Japanese nuclear meltdown continue to escalate.
Berlin's announcement on Monday (14 March) mirrored an earlier call from Switzerland, with European energy chief Guenther Oettinger set to hold an emergency meeting with EU ministers in Brussels on Tuesday.
In Japan, technicians were frantically pumping seawater into reactors at the country's Fukushima plant after a cooling system broke, reportedly exposing nuclear fuel rods for an estimated two and a half hours, raising the risk of overheating and a possible meltdown.
Tokyo has called for a large-scale evacuation of the area in the northeast of the country, devastated by a 8.9 magnitude earthquake last Friday, with France becoming the first government to advise its nationals to leave Tokyo amid the growing alarm.
Experts say radioactive material is unlikely to reach Europe in the event of a large-scale release, but the political ramifications of the Japanese catastrophe continued to be felt throughout Europe on Monday.
Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel put controversial government plans to prolong the lifespan of the country's nuclear power plants on hold for three months pending the outcome of an inquiry into reactor safety.
An independent commission will be set up to conduct the inquiry. "There are no taboos. Everything will be put under review," Merkel told reporters in Berlin as MEPs from across the political spectrum called for EU-wide 'stress tests' on European nuclear plants.
EU energy commissioner Oettinger said the safety at older German nuclear power stations must be checked rigorously, refusing to rule out the possibility of plant closures.
Known for his pro-nuclear stance, the German commissioner has called a meeting to EU energy ministers, power companies and regulators in Brussels on Tuesday to discuss nuclear safety.
"The first focus is on contingency planning - is there a need to better coordinate, to look again at the safety requirements," commission spokeswoman Helen Kearns told reporters in Brussels.
"It's also a fact-finding to ask member states for their analysis of the situation and ask the people who do the inspections, who issue the licenses, are there new issues that we should be looking at given what we've just seen over the past days," she said.
Officials said the discussions where unlike to be groundbreaking however. "I don't think there is going to be any very substantive debate," a source told this website.
Decisions on whether to use nuclear power lie with EU member states, although in a "2050 Roadmap" published earlier this month by the commission said nuclear energy should play an important role in the bloc's transition to a low-carbon economy.
Brussels also has responsibility for monitoring the implementation of the EU's nuclear safety directive which makes International Atomic Energy (IAEA) standards partially legally binding under EU law.
Member states have until the middle of this year to implement the 2009 directive, with large divergences between EU members at present.
Environment group Greenpeace said enforcement of safety standards was important but no sufficient. "Japan's standards are the highest in the world and what we are seeing is that it really doesn't come into it," nuclear campaigner Jan Haverkamp told EUobserver.
"The commission approved Bulgaria's application to build a nuclear power plant at Belene in 2007, citing no seismic risks. But in 1977 roughly 120 people were killed in an earthquake only 14 km away," he added.