What they’re saying about future of nuclear power
One fallout from Japan’sFukushima crisis is a newdebate about the safety ofnuclear power
While the focus of the world rightly remains on the immediate human tragedy of the Japan earthquake, policymakers, pundits and governments across the globe are facing up to the long-term repercussions of the events unfolding at the Fukushima nuclear power plant.
Against the backdrop of resurgent oil prices being reflected in petrol station forecourts around the world - and the knock-on effect on higher transport costs - comes a new energy crisis.
For many countries, nuclear power had been the answer to over-reliance on rapidly diminishing reserves of fossil fuels. Some countries embraced the atom with such fervour that well in excess of half of their electricity needs are now met by it - France's 59 plants produce 78 per cent of the country's electricity needs, while 51.7 per cent of Belgium's needs comes from nuclear power.
But the 31 nations which possess nuclear power are riding a dangerous tiger. Fukushima has shown up the fragility of depending on a form of power generation which can potentially cause thousands of casualties and also render vast swathes of a country uninhabitable.
German chancellor Angela Merkel has been one of the first world leaders to react, announcing the temporary shut down of seven nuclear power stations while a review of the country's 17 facilities is carried out. Previous chancellor Gerhard Schroder had planned to phase out nuclear - which provides a quarter of Germany's needs - by 2022, but his successor reversed that decision.
'Stress tests' are now planned for all of the European Union's 143 nuclear reactors.
With alternative power sources such as wind, tidal and solar not yet up to the task of replacing nuclear or fossil fuels in most countries' energy portfolios, a renewed debate about nuclear power has never been more timely:
WHAT POLITICIANS AND COMMENTATORS ARE SAYING:Angela Merkel, German chancellor:
"We can't yet make do without the peaceful use of nuclear power as a bridge technology if we want to continue to reliably cover our energy requirements as Europe's biggest economy and if we want to continue to live up to the need to protect the climate. But we can't simply continue as normal. The events in Japan teach us that something that by all scientific benchmarks was considered impossible can actually occur."
Gunther Oettinger, EU energy commissioner: "It has to raise the question of whether we in Europe, in the foreseeable future, can secure our energy needs without nuclear power?"
Chris Huhne, Britain's energy secretary:
"I regret the fact some continental politicians seem to be rushing to judgment on this before we've had a proper assessment... We take the incident extremely seriously even though there is no reason to expect a similar scale of seismic activity here in the UK."
James Lovelock, scientist, in the Guardian: "There is a monstrous myth about nuclear power. I would make a strong guess that of the tens of thousands of people killed in Japan, none of them will be from nuclear power."
Max Hastings, the Daily Mail:
"Our best hope should be that, once the surge of emotion provoked by the current tragedy recedes, we shall start making some fast decisions about our future energy supplies founded on facts and realities. What could be a catastrophe for Britain, however, is the crisis that will fall upon us 10 years hence unless this government comes to its senses, and starts to plan for a credible energy future which must include nuclear power."
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, prime minister of Turkey: "There is no investment without risk. In that case, let's not bring gas canisters to our homes, let's not install natural gas, let's not stream crude oil through our country."
Lamar Alexander, US Senator and nuclear power advocate: "Without nuclear power, it is hard to imagine how the US could produce enough cheap, reliable, clean electricity to keep our economy moving and keep jobs from going overseas. We don't abandon highway systems because bridges and overpasses collapse during earthquakes."
Roland Nelles, Der Spiegel:
"After the earthquake and tsunami in Japan followed by the ever-worsening stream of terrible news relating to the country's nuclear power facilities, even the last remaining advocates of the technology must realise that we can't go on like this. It is over. Done. Finished. Nuclear energy cannot be controlled by humans, no matter how good the arguments might be in its favour. The danger of disaster is real, and it can happen at any time – even in a super high-tech country such as Japan."
Editorial in the New York Times:
"With the US poised to expand nuclear power after decades of stagnation, it will be important to reassess safety standards. Regulators will need to evaluate how well operators would cope if they lost both primary power and back-up diesel generators for an extended period. This page has endorsed nuclear power as one tool to head off global warming. We suspect that, when all the evidence is in from Japan, it will remain a valuable tool. But the public needs to know that it is a safe one."
Boris Johnson, the Daily Telegraph:
"The anti-nuke lobby have always believed that any kind of nuclear fission – tampering with the building blocks of the universe – was an invitation to cosmic retribution. They will now do everything they can to exploit the Fukushima explosion and the difficulties being experienced in bringing a couple of plants under control. I doubt that there is any real read-across between the difficulties of nuclear reactors in a well-known earthquake zone, and the proposed nuclear programme in this country, which is becoming more essential with every day that passes."
Editorial in the Sunday Times:
"There should be no implications for the wider nuclear debate, however, least of all in Britain which has no history of serious earthquakes. Some nuclear issues have to be fully resolved, including cost and waste. Conventional power stations have shown themselves vulnerable to flooding, so the sites of new nuclear plants need to be chosen with care. We should not allow Japan's tragedy, great as it is, to exert a misleading influence."
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