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Japan quake fuels German nuclear debate

The Local · 12 Mar 2011, 11:43

Published: 12 Mar 2011 11:43 GMT+01:00

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Green party parliamentary group leader Renate Künast said the critical situation in Japan has cast new doubt on the government's push to delay phasing out nuclear power.

In an interview with broadcaster Deutschlandradio Kultur on Saturday, Künast cautioned that although Germany is not a quake-prone country, "we do not control nature, rather nature controls us."

Friday's devastating earthquake in Japan has left at least hundreds of people dead. Officials said radioactivity was recorded outside the Fukushima nuclear plant following a large blast at the site, sparking fears of a meltdown.

Künast said the catastrophe has raised questions as to whether faulty decisions on the nuclear power issue have been made in Germany – pointing to the coalition government's move to allow existing reactors to run well beyond the planned shut-off date around 2020.

A planned demonstration on Saturday between the Neckarwestheim nuclear plant in southwestern Germany and the city of Stuttgart was expected to draw some 40,000 protesters.

The quake in Japan has also prompted members of the socialist Left Party, as well as environmental groups, to voice their opposition to nuclear power in Germany.

The head of the Left party Klaus Ernst told the Saturday edition of daily Leipziger Volkszeitung that atomic power is "simply not controllable."

"In densely populated areas, it is perpetually playing with fire," he added.

Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan has declared a state of emergency at the Fukushima plant. An area around the facility was evacuated due to the potential that failure of the cooling system could lead to a meltdown.

"Ausgestrahlt," an organisation opposing nuclear power in Germany, said German plants are not immune to those risks, pointing to a 2004 incident at the Biblis plant in the state of Hesse.

"What we are witnessing in these dramatic hours is that even an automatic shut-off mechanism does not protect against a nuclear meltdown," said the organisation's spokesman, Jochen Stay.

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Henrik Paulitz from the group International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War claimed atomic power plants in Germany are not properly equipped to handle the threat of earthquakes.

He said it was probable that "all nuclear power plants in the Rhine valley and near the Neckar river are at risk of possible earthquakes in these areas."

Last month, an earthquake measuring at least 4.4 on the Richter scale shook the Rhine-Main region, but geologists said quakes of such magnitude are rare in Germany, and relatively insignificant on a global scale.


The Local (news@thelocal.de)

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Your comments about this article

15:40 March 12, 2011 by XFYRCHIEF
Ah, yes, thousands dead or dying, and Germany debates its problems. This was an 8.9 magnitude earthquake, not a relatively insignificant 4.4. I didn't think Germany was located on the "Ring of Fire" and had the potential for a massive quake. The automatic shut down system worked perfectly - all of the reactors shut down as designed. It was the tsunami that destroyed the back-up power for the cooling systems.
01:44 March 13, 2011 by bartschaff
@XFYRCHIEF And since when do countries stop worrying about their own problems because of a catastrophe somewhere else? Germany already did its part offering help.

That said, I agree that this earthquake discussion is ridiculous - are they going to advocate for high buildings to be quake proof as well? - but the nuclear power safety has always been an important discussion top. (Though, again, some Germans might be going to fast with their assumptions, as it's still far from clear if a melting down did happen in Fukushima - and, btw, it didn't happen in Three Mile Island either, nor was the cause of the explosion in Chernobyl.)
01:57 March 13, 2011 by theloudbloke
@XFYRCHIEF I concur.

The greens haven't got a clue, so rather than using Nuclear, CO2 free, they would rather burn coal - horrible brown coal at that. Of course they mention Wind and Solar as the saviours of the human race, they don't mention that a) Wind is only available 30% of the time, if you're lucky. b) Producing solar panels uses some really bad chemical processes. c) We (the taxpayers) are subsidising this folly. d) All of this unreliable 'green' energy needs to be backed up 100% with fossil fuel generation. The subsidy for wind power in Europe at the moment makes Nuclear power a cheap option even with the decommissioning costs.

Now they want us to use electric cars, zero emmission at point of use, but don't tell us where the power is going to come from. Wind? Solar? Give me a break, when I finish work and get into my electric wonder I want to know it will be charged and able to take me home, not flat due to lack of wind. Oh and I don't think it is smart to grow food crops to produce bio fuel either. I think we'll be burning fossil fuels for a long time to come.

It's about time the greens dealt with the real issues, like how are we going to feed and water the people if the population grows to the projected 9 Billion by 2050. That's without asking how Germany's economy is going to survive the Chinese and Far Eastern onslaught.
02:04 March 13, 2011 by wood artist
Any time something like the disaster in Japan occurs, it's appropriate for all other governments to examine themselves and determine what lessons they might learn. Yes, there are always differences, sometimes significant ones, but nonetheless, there are opportunities to re-evaluate plans and policies.

Nothing as complex as a nuclear plant will ever be 100% fail safe. That's not an excuse to ignore the issues that have been raised, but it remains true regardless. The first thing needed is to truly understand exactly how the Japanese systems failed, and see if changes are needed. At this point, I doubt anyone truly knows the exact sequence of events...how much was quake related, and how much was tsunami related.

While it is appropriate to ask these questions, and seek honest answers, it remains true that mother nature can always win. If an 8.9 tremor hit central Europe, I might be more worried about dams than nuclear plants, since many dams predate modern seismic codes. That said, nothing changes.

Ask, learn, and implement changes. Screaming hysterically before much of anything is known is pointless. However, it might make somebody feel good.

09:01 March 13, 2011 by The-ex-pat
Green party parliamentary group leader Renate Künast said the critical situation in Japan has cast new doubt on the government's push to delay phasing out nuclear power.

As Germany is well know for being hit by huge earth quakes and tsunamis. So here is an idea, build more conventional power stations and have the car driver pay for the C02 increase!!!!!!

Nuclear is the only way to produce emissions free power that does not mean we have to rely on natures fickle use of sun light and wind.
10:26 March 13, 2011 by catjones
Germany reviewing their nuclear power policy is myopic. The release of radioactivity knows no arbitrary country boundaries. A catastrophe in France or Russia is a catastrophe in Germany.
14:38 March 13, 2011 by ron1amr
I don't seem to get much information about the extent of the dangers from the damaged nuclear reactors. The potential danger is it could wipe out half of Asia. This is a very dangerous situation. I learnt something about nuclear energy is that it needs water to keep the reactors cool. The amount of heat from nuclear power stations must be phenomenal. Most of the reactors around the effected tsunami are built near the ocean. So all the warm water from the power stations must be pumped into the ocean. The tsunami washed all the water away so there was nothing to cool the reactors so as a result the power stations were shut down. But the heat building up meant they had to release heat. Fire trucks were pumping sea water for the reactors. I wonder how much water is needed for one nuclear power station per year and in this ever increasing global water shortages what type of water is used. Cooling ponds are used for nuclear power station. And spent nuclear waste can not be safely sealed but needs to be monitored. Similar to Yucca mountain where the waste is 500m metres under ground. What happens if an earthquake hits those areas? The earth quake that caused the Tsunami in Japan was larger than seismologists had thought possible.
12:18 March 14, 2011 by moistvelvet
At the moment it is unlcear whether Japan has an economy strong enough to withstand this disaster, but if Japan didn't have nuclear power it's economy certainly wouldn't be strong enough since nuclear power is what has given Japan growth since they threw off the shackles of energy imports after the oil crisis of the early 70s.

So question which ultimately concerns everyone is can Germany afford not to have nuclear power?
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