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Europe sounding nuclear alarm bells

Europe sounding nuclear alarm bells
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Japan’s nuclear disaster has spurred political movement in Europe. Industry experts and energy ministers have held safety talks in Brussels, convened by EU Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger. He has proposed a general, thorough health check of nuclear plants across Europe, including within non-EU countries, on a voluntary basis.

Oettinger said: “The risks of earthquakes, tsunami flooding, terrorist attacks, reliability of cooling systems, the dangers of power failures, emplacements’ age and construction type… all these factors and more will be examined in stress tests, under common European Union criteria.”

Since a serious accident can spread dangerous, weather-born fallout across borders, like Chernobyl did in 1986, threatening people’s health and the environment, the possibility is highly political. Japan’s disaster has magnified awareness. Nearly two thirds of the 27 EU countries use nuclear energy, none more than France.

At a separate meeting, chairing the G8 in Paris, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé dismissed any notions of a nuclear-free Europe: “We have to demand more safety, but to suggest to the French that we could manage without nuclear energy production in the coming decades is, purely and simply, a lie.”

France has seen anti-nuclear demonstrations follow those in Germany, which on Monday suspended a decision to extend the original lifespan of its nuclear power plants. Some still used in eastern Europe date from the Soviet era.