Reactions to nuclear emergency mixed

The nuclear crisis in Japan continues with the latest efforts to cool the reactors involving army helicopters attempting to dump tonnes of water on them to prevent a meltdown.

While reports differ on how harmful the situation may be to human health, in the UK the Foreign office is advising British nationals to consider leaving Tokyo and to remain outside an 80km radius of the Fukushima nuclear facility.

The advice states: “Due to the evolving situation at the Fukushima nuclear facility and potential disruptions to the supply of goods, transport, communications, power and other infrastructure, British nationals currently in Tokyo and to the north of Tokyo should consider leaving the area.”

The UK’s Chief Scientific Adviser has advised that for those outside the exclusion zone set up by the Japanese authorities there is currently no real human health issue but that this advice is being kept under constant review.

In Europe, the EU commissioner, Günther Oettinger, promised that stress tests would be carried out on nuclear power stations to assess their safety.

He said that decisions on the early closure of nuclear power stations lay with the individual national governments and said it would be wrong to jump to conclusions about the safety of the plants in Europe.

In the UK, in a reaction to the news that Germany and Switzerland suspended decisions on future nuclear power, the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) warned against a ‘kneejerk reaction’.

IMechE chief executive, Stephen Tetlow, said: “The humanitarian tragedy currently unfolding in Japan is deeply shocking and our thoughts go out to all affected.

“However we are beginning to see kneejerk reactions against nuclear power in this country and across Europe which could prove to be profoundly damaging to our long-term energy security.”

“The fact is that without nuclear power we face a very real possibility of the UK’s lights turning off in a decade’s time. We shouldn’t be complacent – we need to learn from what is happening now in Japan – however to make any long-term decisions before we know the facts would be reckless.”

Greenpeace urged ministers to use the experience of the events in Japan to fully recognise the potential for renewable energy.

Greenpeace executive director John Sauven said: “It’s already clear that a new debate is taking shape here in Europe about the direction of our energy policy.

“We’re lurching from one energy crisis to the next. First the BP oil spill in the USA, then oil price spikes in response to unrest in the Middle East, and now this nuclear emergency. But the long-term solution is the same as it has always been – a sustainable home-grown renewable energy system.”

Alison Brown

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