Monday

16th Sep 2019

Japan earthquake poses questions about EU nuclear safety

  • Sendai, Japan, one of the area's worst hit by a tsunami caused by Friday's earthquake (Photo: US Navy)

Nuclear experts from EU member states will gather in Brussels this week to discuss the damage caused to Japan's Fukushima nuclear power plant and the potential ramifications for Europe, after a powerful earthquake ripped though the Asian country on Friday (11 March).

In an early indication of mounting public hostility to nuclear energy as a result of the Japanese catastrophe, 60,000 people took to the streets in Germany on Saturday, with Austria calling for a series of nuclear 'stress tests' to ensure the safety of European plants.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

A second explosion rocked the Fukushima plant on Monday at the plant's No. 3 reactor building, sending out an orange fireball, followed by plumes of smoke. Experts said the explosion was due to the build-up of nitrogen gas in the reactor's protective casing, a similar cause to Saturday's initial explosion.

The International Atomic Energy Agency said radiation levels remained "normal" however, but in Europe the political fall-out was quickly felt over the weekend.

EU energy commissioner Gunther Oettinger will meet with national nuclear safety authorities, nuclear power plant vendors and operators early this week: "to jointly assess the consequences of the accident as well as the lessons that can be drawn from the events in Japan."

"If required, pro-active actions will be taken to address to situation in the EU," added the European Commission in a statement.

Mr Oettinger is known to be a supporter of nuclear energy, with his candidacy broadly welcomed in Brussels last year where officials are keen to diversity energy resources away from the bloc's current dependence on Russian gas.

Commission proposals last November said EU member states must bury their radioactive waste deep underground in future, but the measures were attacked by environmental groups who said the plans were a PR exercise to persuade Europeans that nuclear waste can be dealt with.

In Germany, protest organisers said some 60,000 people demonstrated against nuclear power on Saturday in the southern German state of Baden-Wuerttemberg. The state, home to four of Germany's 17 nuclear reactors, is set for regional elections on 27 March.

A loss for Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union party would further strengthen the opposition's hold of the Bundesrat, Germany's upper chamber.

"No reactor in the world is prepared for the case of a meltdown," Green Party MP Juergen Trittin said on live television. The former environment minister was involved in negotiations with energy utilities during the last decade on a phasing out of nuclear power, but the plans were later watered down by Merkel's government.

On Sunday the Austrian government said it was in favour of carrying out 'stress tests' on Europe's nuclear power plants, similar to the examinations being carried out on the region's banks after the financial crisis.

Austrian environment minister Nikolaus Berlakovich said he would raise the subject at a meeting of EU environment ministers in Brussels on Monday. We need to check "the safety of nuclear plants in the event of an earthquake and the state of their cooling systems and reactor confinement," he said.

In Finland, finance minister Jyrki Katainen Sunday said he hoped events in Japan would not trigger hasty reactions in the Nordic country. "It is too early to draw any conclusions," said the leader of the conservative National Coalition Party.

A day earlier however, Paavo Arhinmaki, leader of the opposition Left Alliance, told a party conference that no further nuclear reactors should be built in Finland, citing events in Japan where a massive clean-up operation is currently underway.

The official death-toll after Friday's 8.9 magnitude earthquake is around 1,500 people, but the figure is expected to rise much higher. Police in the north-eastern Miyagi prefecture, one of the worst hit areas, estimated on Sunday that at least 10,000 people had been killed in their district alone, mostly by drowning.

EU leaders on Friday asked high representative Catherine Ashton to "mobilise all appropriate assistance" for Japan, whose prime minister, Naoto Kan, has said his country is facing "the most severe crisis since World War II".

Watch British conservative MEP Giles Chichester discuss the EU's nuclear energy policy with the Green German MEP Rebecca Harms in the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Agenda

Brexit and new commission in focus This WEEK

Jean-Claude Juncker will meet Boris Johnson for the first time, but no breakthrough is expected in Brexit talks. MEPs are preparing to hear from the commission-designates, while Hungary will be grilled at the EU affairs' ministers meeting.

Analysis

How should the EU handle Russia now?

Should West help Russian opposition in its struggle against the regime, or make new deals with Putin, as France is keen to do?

News in Brief

  1. No new backstop proposal at Juncker-Johnson lunch
  2. Saudi oil production in flames after drone attack
  3. US: attack on Saudi oil came from Iran or Iraq
  4. Poll: Belgium's far-right Vlaams Belang largest party
  5. Nationalist parties to support Sanchez if he makes deal
  6. EU finance ministers support simplification of fiscal rules
  7. Italy's Renzi ready to set up new political force
  8. Two independents come top in Tunisia presidential election

Agenda

Brexit and new commission in focus This WEEK

Jean-Claude Juncker will meet Boris Johnson for the first time, but no breakthrough is expected in Brexit talks. MEPs are preparing to hear from the commission-designates, while Hungary will be grilled at the EU affairs' ministers meeting.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  2. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  6. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  8. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  9. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  10. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  11. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat

Latest News

  1. In detail: Belgium's EU nominee faces crime probe
  2. France urges EU virtual currency rules amid Libra risk
  3. Brexit and new commission in focus This WEEK
  4. As recession looms Europe needs more spending
  5. How should the EU handle Russia now?
  6. EU defence bravado criticised by auditors
  7. Central European leaders demand Balkan EU accession
  8. Luxembourg's cannabis legalisation is EU opportunity

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  4. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  5. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  8. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us