Thursday

22nd Feb 2024

EU commissioner: Japanese disaster in 'hands of God'

  • Damage at Japan's Fukushima plant (Photo: DigitalGlobe)

The nuclear crisis in Japan is now in the "hands of God", the EU's energy commissioner, Guenther Oettinger, has said, rattling financial markets.

Speaking to the European Parliament's environment committee on Wednesday (16 March), Oettinger expressed surprise at the "incredible makeshift" methods being used by Japanese technicians to prevent further disaster at the Fukushima power plant. "The site is effectively out of control," the German commissioner told MEPs, a day after he described Japan as facing an "apocalypse".

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Get the EU news that really matters

Instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

Global stock markets reacted with alarm to the energy chief's comments, with a spokeswoman quickly clarifying that they were not based on any new information.

The European Commission also confirmed Wednesday that it had asked EU member states to check the levels of radioactivity in food and feed imports from Japan, although annual imports from the Asian country amount to a relatively low €65 million, mainly fruit, vegetables and fish.

Maximum levels of radioactive contamination allowed in food imports into the EU were fixed following the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986.

Japan's ongoing crisis has rapidly turned Europe's attention to the safety of its own nuclear power sector, with member states and industry representatives agreeing on Tuesday to subject the bloc's 143 plants to 'stress tests' later this year.

On Monday, Berlin announced it would temporarily shut down seven of Germany's nuclear plants built prior to 1980, pending the outcome of an independent safety review.

The move followed large anti-nuclear protests in the country over the weekend, with Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrat party facing a strong challenge from the anti-nuclear Greens in upcoming regional elections.

Other member states have warned against knee-jerk reactions. "We don't see any reason to yield to hysteria," the prime minister of the pro-nuclear Czech Republic, Petr Necas, said on Tuesday, referring to the German decision. "We consider it a cheap trick."

British energy secretary Chris Huhne said some "continental politicians" had acted hastily. French Prime Minister Francois Fillon said it would be absurd to condemn nuclear energy out of hand.

Europe has witnessed a number of little-known potential disasters since Chernobyl however, including at the Kozloduy plant in Bulgaria in March 2005.

"Operators realised that the shutdown facility of the plant was not operating correctly," Georgui Kastchiev, a senior scientist at the Vienna-based Institute of Risk Research, told EUobserver on Wednesday.

"During dangerous events such as an electricity blackout, the first thing is to shutdown the fission reaction taking place in the core. But the plant's neutron absorbers which stop the reaction were jammed. A nightmare situation would have developed if the power had suddenly cut."

A 2007 report co-authored by Kastchiev highlights a list of similar shortcomings or minor accidents which could have become more serious.

These include the Tihange plant in Belgium in 1988, the Civaux plant in France in 1998, the Philippsburg plant in Germany in 2001 and the Forsmark plant in Sweden in 2006.

Commission approval for Bulgarian authorities to build a nuclear plant in Belene has also come in for criticism.

"The commission approved Bulgaria's application in 2007 ... citing no seismic risks. But in 1977 roughly 120 people were killed in an earthquake only 14 km away," Greenpeace nuclear campaigner Jan Haverkamp told this website earlier this week.

On Tuesday, Oettinger said the commission planned to re-examine the project.

EU's €723bn Covid recovery fund saw growth, but doubts remain

The €723bn Covid-19 recovery fund, launched three years ago, has been a success, according to a mid-term internal review — but less effective than initially predicted. And according to one NGO, the commission painted an "overly positive picture".

Von der Leyen rejects extremist parties, leaves door open to ECR

Launching her campaign for a second EU Commission president mandate, Ursula von der Leyen rejected collaboration with extremist parties but left the door open to working with rightwing ECR — which may go from fifth to third-largest party in June.

Russian oligarchs failed to get off EU blacklist

Hungary failed to get three Russian and three Chinese names deleted, as the EU approved its 13th package of sanctions ahead of an anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Podcast

Podcast: Navalny, Ian Bremmer and "more Europe"

EU headlines, Russia after Navalny, the Munich Security Conference and an interview with Ian Bremmer, author and founder of the Eurasia Group on his main takeaways from the conference.

Feature

Only Palestinians paying thousands of dollars leave Gaza

Despite the high risk of dying from war, starvation or disease, Gazans are still not allowed to enter Egypt. Except those who bribe the authorities. And the EU mission EUBAM Rafah cannot be deployed due to security reasons.

Podcast

Podcast: Navalny, Ian Bremmer and "more Europe"

EU headlines, Russia after Navalny, the Munich Security Conference and an interview with Ian Bremmer, author and founder of the Eurasia Group on his main takeaways from the conference.

Latest News

  1. EU auditors: rule-of-law budget protections only partial success
  2. EU's €723bn Covid recovery fund saw growth, but doubts remain
  3. Von der Leyen rejects extremist parties, leaves door open to ECR
  4. Russian oligarchs failed to get off EU blacklist
  5. Podcast: Navalny, Ian Bremmer and "more Europe"
  6. Only Palestinians paying thousands of dollars leave Gaza
  7. Ukraine refugees want to return home — but how?
  8. African leaders unveil continent-wide plan to buy medicines

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic Food Systems Takeover at COP28
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersHow women and men are affected differently by climate policy
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersArtist Jessie Kleemann at Nordic pavilion during UN climate summit COP28
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP28: Gathering Nordic and global experts to put food and health on the agenda
  5. Friedrich Naumann FoundationPoems of Liberty – Call for Submission “Human Rights in Inhume War”: 250€ honorary fee for selected poems
  6. World BankWorld Bank report: How to create a future where the rewards of technology benefit all levels of society?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsThis autumn Europalia arts festival is all about GEORGIA!
  2. UNOPSFostering health system resilience in fragile and conflict-affected countries
  3. European Citizen's InitiativeThe European Commission launches the ‘ImagineEU’ competition for secondary school students in the EU.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region is stepping up its efforts to reduce food waste
  5. UNOPSUNOPS begins works under EU-funded project to repair schools in Ukraine
  6. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsGeorgia effectively prevents sanctions evasion against Russia – confirm EU, UK, USA

Join EUobserver

EU news that matters

Join us