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Atomic stress

May 17, 2011

A report on how well Germany's nuclear power plants would withstand a range of disaster scenarios has revealed they may be vulnerable to attack. However, experts did not call for any urgent closures.

The Biblis nuclear power plant
Four reactors were found wanting in one testImage: picture-alliance/ dpa

A "worst-case scenario" test of Germany's nuclear reactors has revealed that they fall short when it comes to robustness in the event of extreme disaster.

Although the study by the country's Reactor Safety Commission found there was no urgent need to close any reactor down, it did identify safety concerns.

Revealing details of the report on Tuesday, Environment Minister Norbert Röttgen said the report showed that the country's nuclear power plants possessed a "basic robustness" in most of the scenarios envisaged.

However, citing the example of a terrorist attack using airplanes, he said it was a "different picture" in extreme situations.

The plants were able to meet only the very lowest requirements when examined in the context of a range of possible disasters.

Part of the Fukushima plant, seen from above
Some reactors in Germany were closed after the disaster at Fukushima in MarchImage: AP

None of the power plants met the highest safety standard, level three, across every scenario. Nor did any achieve an overall average that met even the medium standard, level two. Despite this, Röttgen said there was no urgent need to shut any reactor down.

"There is no reason for us to make a mad rush to stop using nuclear power overnight," said Röttgen. "It remains the case that a way must be found for us to leave nuclear power behind as soon as possible," he added.

Vulnerable to suicide attack

The minister said that four reactors would not withstand the impact of a small airplane in the event of a terrorist attack.

He indicated that the plants - Biblis A, Biblis B, Brunsbüttel and Philippsburg I - would probably have to be closed before their scheduled shutdown date.

The four plants lacked the "required safety features," Röttgen said. Other, more secure facilities have thickened concrete domes.

The panel found that all of the reactors were vulnerable to the impact of a larger aircraft, which was deemed the main threat to Germany's nuclear facilities.

Norbert Röttgen
Röttgen said the need remained as strong as ever to replace nuclear powerImage: dapd

Röttgen also indicated that seven of the oldest reactors, which were closed temporarily following the Japanese nuclear disaster in March, might not be put back online. The German government ordered the tests in the wake of the Fukushima disaster.

'Equipped to resist most disasters'

The report stopped short of recommending the closure of any one plant in particular, stating that plants were equipped to withstand most disasters.

Among the events envisaged were earthquakes, flooding, power failure and plane crashes.

Current legislation requires all of Germany's nuclear plants to be shut down by 2036.

The panel's findings come in the wake of an ethics-based review of nuclear power by a commission that included academics and bishops. The ethics panel said that Germany should phase out the technology within a decade.

Author: Richard Connor (AFP, dpa, Reuters)
Editor: Nancy Isenson