The political fallout from the earthquake and tsunami in Japan is spreading around the globe, and the implications for nuclear power are broad.
Germany to shut down 7 nuclear plants
Chancellor Angela Merkel will have seven of Germany's 17 nuclear power plants shut down for three months while inspectors and experts review safety standards. Merkel’s decision comes in the wake of both the Japan disaster and major civil unrest in her home nation this week. “The decision also follows a massive protest Monday across Germany opposing the continued operation of the plants and a public opinion poll opposing nuclear energy on fears that a similar accident in Japan could occur in the country,” All Headline News
reported on Tuesday.
The moratorium will last until June 15. Six of the seven plants that are will be shut down were built before 1980 and the other one, the Schleswig-Holstein plant, was built in 1983. Germany’s nuclear power plants reportedly produce about 23 percent of the country’s electricity.
India’s plants under increased scrutiny
Prabir Purkayastha, an Indian engineer and writer for Newsclick, wrote a lengthy article following the earthquake, raising all sorts of questions about nuclear power in India. “It is not the best-kept secret in the world that Indian plants have had problems at different points. The collapse of the Kaiga dome and the fire in Narora, which caused all controls to be lost, are cases in point. In Narora, again workers facing very heavy odds managed a safe shutdown of the reactor manually. The point is with complete opacity surrounding the nuclear plants and the functioning of the Atomic Energy Commission and its attached body, the AERB, it is difficult to accept the results of the safety audit.” Of course, this view is just one writer’s opinion about the state of nuclear power in India, but given the concerns around the world, I think it's worth noting — and a good place to begin discussions in the world’s largest democracy. If you’d like to see all of Purkayastha’s thoughts on the matter, check out his article.
Africa’s only nuclear power plant shuts down for scheduled reviews
One of the two nuclear units at the Koeberg nuclear power plant near Cape Town, South Africa, will be shut down for repairs and refueling. The announcement came the Sunday after the Japan earthquake, and the shutdown is expected to last until the second week of May. The announcement, though not related to the disaster in Japan, has elicited concerns. "Given the events in Japan, we want to assure the public that perfectly clean steam will issue from next to the reactor during the routine shut," spokesman Tony Stott said in a Times Live account.
A Reuters Africa report touches on nuclear concerns in Africa. In that report, Kannan Lakmeeharan, the electricity utility's operations and planning division manager, says, "There are several elements to what is going on in Japan that we have to compare to South Africa. The first is ... design of the plant.” Lakmeeharan goes on to say, "The Koeberg plant is built on a raft to withstand a Richter Scale 7 earthquake. So you've got to look at what is the history of seismic activity in South Africa, and whether that design is sufficient.” The plant is also tsunami-proof. However, the magnitude-7.0 limitation may no longer be as comfortable a standard, considering the size of the quake in Japan — now considered a 9.0.
Lots to say in the U.S.A.
Of course the United States is not immune from concerns either. Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) grabbed headlines over the weekend when he told CBS’ Bob Schieffer that it was time to temporarily put the brakes on plans to develop more nuclear power in the United States. Lieberman’s calls for caution are particularly noteworthy because he has been a strong advocate for increased use of nuclear energy over the years. "We've had good safety with nuclear power plants here in the United States ... I don't want to stop the building of nuclear power plants, but I think we've got to kind of quietly, quickly put the brakes on until we can absorb what has happened in Japan as a result of the earthquake and the tsunami and then see what more, if anything, we can demand of the new power plants that are coming online,” Lieberman said on "Face the Nation
Lieberman isn’t the only politician on Capitol Hill calling for more oversight on the future of nuclear power in America. The No. 2 Democrat in the House of Representatives, Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), said
the Japan crisis should be a wake-up call to the U.S. While Hoyer was making his comments, other Democrats were calling for the House Natural Resources Committee
to hold hearings about the current concerns as they pertain to future nuclear permits in the U.S. Many of the Democratic members of the Natural Resources Committee signed a letter about holding hearings, which focused on Vermont’s Yankee Nuclear power plant in particular. “In recent years, the NRC has approved over 60 license renewal applications, including several for plants with the same design as the endangered Japanese facilities,” the letter says. “In fact, the NRC recently voted to renew the operating license for the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant, which is of the same design as some of other reactors experiencing severe problems in Japan.”
So there it is: Each new nugget of news out of Japan has shaped the reactions from all corners of the world.