Japanese nuclear fiasco eye-opener for Europe?

Angela Merkel, prime minister of Germany, has ordered the immediate shutdown of seven nuclear power plants. This decision is a direct consequence of the nuclear disaster in Japan. Europe is divided once again, whether or not to use nuclear energy in the future.

Merkel wants to close and inspect all the nuclear power plants build before 1980. The power plants will be closed for the next 3 months. The Belgian minister of Internal Affairs Turtelboom has stated in a reaction to the shutdowns, that if the power plants remain closed permanently, Belgium will get into serious trouble. In France, president Sarkozy has also respond in a negative way. France will not shut down their power plants, but the Prime Minister Francois Fillon said that all of the 58 power plants would be checked and controlled. On the other hand, he rules out that nuclear energy should be condemned. Something that was expected, knowing that France is the most dependant country when talking about nuclear energy. For France it is essential to maintain its energy autonomy position. Europe has a new issue that needs a quick resolve.

Germany and Switzerland already put a hold on their nuclear programs. The European ministers of energy discussed the situation on Tuesday and decided that they will implement a stress test. Unfortunately it is not an obligation. We all know the stress test that Europe used two years ago during the economic crisis. A negative point about the stress test was its reliability. Hopefully the European ministers will take this more serious. If some nuclear plants fail the stress test, the debate about nuclear plants will arise again. Chances are high that the European ministers not make the stress test an obligation, because they do not want to feed panic and enormous costs of shutting down or repair some power plants.

Off course this disaster is a shock for Japan, but it is also a shock for the propagandists of nuclear power all over Europe. They put a lot of effort in selling nuclear power as the sustainable technology for the future. Before this disaster the public opinion was almost convinced that nuclear power was the solution for our environmental problem. At the moment they are back doubting. The accident in Japan could lead to a major rethink in Europe. In Germany opinion polls revealed that almost 70% of the Germans oppose nuclear power. Near the nuclear plant in Neckarwestheim, near Stuttgart 40,000 people turned out Saturday to form a human chain near the nuclear plant to protest the governmental policy concerning nuclear power. Also in other countries there are small demonstrations. Is this the beginning of the end for nuclear energy or will the proponents be able to resist the pressure of the public opinion.

Paul Ekins from the University of London Energy Institutes thinks that nuclear energy is a very difficult matter to handle. If we can live without it, the choice will be made very fast. Unfortunately we still rely too much on this type of energy. On the other hand, the nuclear industry is pretty safe. The last incident was in 1986 at Tsjernobyl. Since then security has skyrocketed. But people may not forget that nuclear energy is very dangerous. And the fact that the Japanese government build the nuclear plant in a seismic active area is something to think about.

In the meanwhile the stock markets are collapsing under the Japanese tsunami. Not only the tsunami caused a lot of damage, the Fukushima power plants damage the shares of European energy suppliers. The German stock market is the one that is most influenced by Japan. The DAX got hit and so did the Japanese index NIKKEX, with a plummet of 10,5% on Tuesday. By Wednesday hunters already gave the market a boost. It is forecasted that the Pacific stock market will keep on fluctuating. and eventually go down. Further on Foreign investors are selling their shares, just to get rid of them. It seems that the big crisis in 1987 will repeat itself in Japan, which is still the Third most powerful economy in the world.

Whether or not the leaders of Europe want to talk about it, nuclear energy is a tricky subject that is once again a main issue.


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