German Panels to Discuss Nuclear-Safety Issues

23 Mar

German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks during a news conference about Germany's nuclear energy policy in Berlin, March 22, 2011. German Chancellor Angela Merkel summoned state premiers on Tuesday to tackle what are likely to be tougher safety rules for nuclear power plants after the Japanese crisis as well as a faster transition to green energy. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

BERLIN, March 23, 2011 (WSJ)—German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Tuesday her government will assign two separate expert panels to check technical and ethical safety questions related to the use of nuclear energy within three months, The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday.

“I don’t rule out that the reviews will have an impact on life-spans” of nuclear plants, Ms. Merkel said at a press briefing following a meeting with premiers of German states that host nuclear power stations. However, she said can’t predict what the outcome of those reviews will be.

Meanwhile, the Italian government plans to approve Wednesday a one-year moratorium for the country’s nuclear comeback, the industry minister said Tuesday, as the global backlash against atomic energy means it faces overwhelming opposition at home. Italy banned nuclear power in a 1987 referendum. The government of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi announced in 2008 it would allow the return of nuclear power in Italy.

In Germany, Ms. Merkel last week had announced a three-month moratorium to an earlier decision by her government to extend the life-span of nuclear plants by, on average, 12 years. She also ordered the temporary closure of seven older nuclear plants, and said some plants may have to be switched off permanently, faster than expected.

The Chancellor’s insistence on safety and possible turnaround in energy policy come after mass protests against nuclear power and ahead of elections in the states of Baden-Wuerttemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate next Sunday.

Ms. Merkel on Monday denied the safety measures were accelerated to boost her party’s chances in upcoming state elections. However, Tuesday she acknowledged that the “unfortunate experiences [in Japan]” may have an influence on voter behavior.

The more technical of the nuclear safety panels will evaluate whether safety standards need to be improved in light of the nuclear accident at a Japanese nuclear reactor complex after a devastating earthquake and tsunami, Ms. Merkel said.

The panel will also look into new kinds of safety concerns, such as possible cyber attacks on nuclear installations, she said.

Questions of emergency electricity supplies, cooling systems, and the evaluation of the explosions that occurred in Japan during the phase of emergency measures will all be verified, German Environment Minister Norbert Roettgen added at the briefing Tuesday.

Mr. Roettgen said it needs to be evaluated whether stricter safety assumptions need to be put in place.

The Japanese disaster has shown that nature has proved wrong the safety assumptions made in the case of earthquakes, he said.

“Couldn’t there also be two [simultaneous] catastrophic events in Germany? Floods and explosion?” Mr. Roettgen asked.

The second commission will evaluate ethical questions related to the operations of nuclear reactors amid public opinion in Germany that is far more nuclear-skeptic than in most other European countries.

German Economy Minister Rainer Bruederle Tuesday repeated that nuclear power is a “bridge technology” on the path to an economy based on renewable energy.

To boost the usage of renewables, Mr. Bruederle presented a draft to state premiers for legislation to foster a massive expansion of power lines to transport wind energy from the windy North Sea and northern Germany to the South, where nuclear plants may be switched off.

Partners within and outside the European Union need to be included in efforts to check the safety of Europe’s 145 nuclear power stations, Mr. Bruederle stressed.

EU energy ministers failed Monday to reach consensus on how and when to conduct continent-wide “stress tests” on nuclear power stations.

Some countries, such as Poland or Turkey, want to boost nuclear energy production, while others, such as Austria, would like to see an exit from the technology everywhere, Bruederle said.

EU government leaders at a summit Thursday and Friday will discuss the issue of nuclear safety again.  (*)
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