Kyodo News, Brussels, Mar 15, 2011
The European Union agreed Tuesday to check the safety of all 143 nuclear reactors operating in its 14 member countries [please see my remarks below -- D.R.] in the wake of a nuclear crisis at the quake-hit Fukushima nuclear plant in northeastern Japan.
The European Union made the decision at an emergency meeting of energy ministers of its 27 member countries. Several reactors in the EU region have a structure similar to that of reactors at the Fukushima No. 1 [Daiichi] nuclear power plant, the European Commission said.
As serious accidents hit reactors in Japan, a country deemed to have some of the world's highest safety standards, the European Union is under pressure to review the safety of nuclear power generation, which it has billed as a source of safe and clean energy not emitting global warming gases.
EU Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger said at a press conference that the nuclear safety checks will address all possible threats, including earthquakes, tsunami and terrorist attacks.
The European Union will also test the durability of a cooling system of those nuclear reactors in view of cooling system problems experienced at the Fukushima nuclear power plant. It will also check a backup power supply system taking lessons from Japan, where electricity shortage is becoming serious with the suspension of nuclear power plant operations.
The commission said Tuesday it is extremely unlikely that Europe will experience an earthquake similar in size to the one that hit northeastern Japan, apparently in an effort to allay fears over its nuclear reactors.
Also at the emergency meeting were officials from nuclear watchdog authorities and power companies from member countries. They will work out details for safety checks in cooperation with the European Union and member state governments. [Full story]
(Also, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that seven reactors that went into operation before 1980 would be offline for three months while Europe's biggest economy reconsiders its plans to extend the life of its atomic power plants in the wake of events in Japan---please see my posts here and here. One of them, the 840MW Neckarwestheim I reactor, would remain shut down for good. A previous government decided a decade ago to shut all 17 German nuclear reactors by 2021, but Merkel's administration last year moved to extend their lives by an average 12 years. That decision was suspended for three months on Monday. Energy policies in the EU are still driven independently by member nations and vary hugely. For example, France gets about 75% of its energy from nuclear power, while Poland relies mostly on coal and solid fuels. France's 58 nuclear reactors make France the second-biggest user of nuclear power in the world after the United States, where 104 reactors deliver 20% of the country's electricity. In the EU 143 nuclear power plants are in use: Belgium (7), Bulgaria (2), Czech Republic (6), Finland (4), France (58), Germany (17), Hungary (4), Netherlands (1), Romania (2), Slovakia (4), Slovenia (1), Spain (8), Sweden (10), and UK (19). Before the Fukushima disaster, Italy and Poland planned to built nuclear power plants. Switzerland, which is not in the EU, on Monday suspended plans to replace and build new nuclear plants pending a review of the tsunami-stricken reactors in Japan. -- D.R.)