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No zero risk

March 14, 2011

As Japan struggles in the aftermath of the massive earthquake and tsunami, many European newspaper commentators speculated about the future of nuclear energy following radiation leaks from Japanese nuclear reactors.

spread of German newspapers
Image: dpa

The Japanese catastrophe has revived the debate about the supposed trustworthiness of nuclear power, and rightly so, wrote La Charente Libre from France: "The events in Japan show that there is no such thing as a zero risk, not concerning nuclear energy nor anything else."

A worldwide debate about nuclear power has taken off, the Paris paper La Croix noted, without anyone waiting for further developments in Japan. "Even if the catastrophe can be controlled, it is a reminder of the fact that humans don't have a grip on everything and that natural disasters can foil the best of plans," the French paper said. It pointed out the complexity of political solutions: "Everything - costly oil, increasing needs, insufficient renewable energy - must be taken into account and each and every decision has consequences that have to be shouldered."

El Pais from Madrid also concluded that, no matter what the outcome of the drama surrounding Japan's nuclear reactors, the use of nuclear energy will be re-examined - not only in Japan, but in other countries as well. "In view of the instable economic situation, that could have grave consequences for global economy," El Pais wrote and added that for Japan, the consequences were bound to be lasting as the country is dependent on nuclear energy.

Dnewnik , on the other hand, warned of panicking. The Sofia-based Bulgarian paper commented that the incident in Fukushima showed that the country's nuclear reactors were sufficiently safe: "Japan has 55 nuclear power plants, but only one of them faces major problems," the paper wrote, and added that the fear of nuclear energy is as irrational as the fear of flying in an airplane. What environmentalists should demand now, the Bulgarian paper concluded, is not a ban on nuclear technology but rather its development.

In its look at the current nuclear energy debate in Europe, Neue Zürcher Zeitung from Switzerland commented that the supporters of nuclear energy will find it more difficult than ever before to convince an already skeptical public of that technology's advantages. The paper urged concentrating the discussion on how this source of energy can be controlled after a massive disruption. "What level of remaining risk are we prepared to shoulder in order to satisfy our unchecked, increasing hunger for energy?" the paper asked. "It is very likely that March 11, 2011 has forced a preliminary decision."

Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung commented that there seems to be no dependable protection from the destructive powers of a tsunami - and the consequences of nuclear accidents. On Sunday, the paper wrote, it was not yet completely clear what exactly had happened, and certainly not what possibly still could happen. But the paper rejected criticism of the Japanese government's information policies: "You have to grant a government the right not to participate in speculation about theoretically possible scenarios."

"The energy sector's dream of nuclear technology's controllability is over," said Südwest Presse. If a country like Japan can't prevent nuclear consequences, there is no way that the world can continue with business as usual. Security inspections won't be enough, the German paper warned: "The operative word now is credibility."

Compiled by Dagmar Breitenbach
Editor: Michael Lawton

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