Japan Nuclear Emergency Prompts Quick Action in Europe

Special Report: Fukushima and the Future of Nuclear Power

Editor's Note: This is part of our ongoing news coverage of Japan's earthquake and nuclear emergency.

As Japanese authorities continue to struggle with the Fukushima Dai-1 nuclear facility after last week's massive earthquake and tsunami, the rest of the world has jumped headlong into a discussion of nuclear power's safety. In Europe, where some countries rely heavily on nuclear reactors for electricity, the reactions have been swift.

In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel announced that seven older plants -- those that came online prior to 1980 -- will be shuttered until at least June while safety tests are conducted. At the same time, a deal made last summer that extended the life of 30 German nuclear plants has been suspended for at least three months. Nuclear power provides about one quarter of Germany's electricity.

France, on the other hand, gets about 80 percent of its power from 58 nuclear facilities (one of them, at Lorraine, pictured above), a greater proportion than any other country in the world. And though French officials agree of the magnitude and importance of the Japanese disaster, there seems to be little plan to change their reliance on nuclear power. As President Nicolas Sarkozy said in a statement: "France has made the choice of nuclear energy, which is key to its energy independence and in the fight against greenhouse gases...I remain today convinced of the pertinence of this choice."

France has long been an innovator in nuclear power; as we covered here before, the country has spearheaded ideas like a small undersea nuclear reactor. In an e-mail, the main company developing that project, DCNS, did not say that the Japanese crisis will change the timeline at all.

In the United Kingdom, where nuclear power accounts for about 20 percent of electricity -- similar to the United States -- the energy minister Chris Huhne has expressed concern that the appetite to fund nuclear projects might now be lessened. Ten plants in the country need replacing.

There are clearly differing attitudes around the European continent as the crisis in Japan continues to unfold. But on a continent-wide basis, there is general agreement that all 143 plants in the European Union's 27 countries should now undergo additional stress testing. Whether the testing, or the political and cultural landscapes of individual nations, will change the course of nuclear power in Europe remains to be seen.

(Image via Toucanradio)

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