Germany shuts down seven reactors after Japanese tragedy


BERLIN/TOKYO/SENDAI – Germany announced on Tuesday the temporary shutdown of its seven oldest nuclear reactors while it conducts a safety probe in light of Japan’s atomic emergency. “We are launching a safety review of all nuclear reactors … with all reactors in operation since before the end of 1980 set to be idled for the period of the (three-month) moratorium,” Chancellor Angela Merkel said.
This covers seven of the 17 reactors in Germany, which decided a decade ago to be nuclear-free by 2020, a target postponed until the mid-2030s by Merkel’s government late last year – despite strong public opposition. In Japan, a strong quake was felt in Tokyo late on Tuesday, shaking buildings in the capital four days after a massive tremor sparked a devastating tsunami that ravaged the country’s northeast coast.
The Japan Meteorological Agency put the magnitude of the quake at 6.0. The epicentre was located in Shizuoka prefecture, about 120 kilometres southwest of the capital, and near Mount Fuji, which is prone to earthquakes. The quake occurred at a relatively shallow depth of 10 kilometres. The US Geological Survey put the magnitude at 6.1 and said it had been preceded a few minutes earlier by another 5.8-magnitude tremor.
The epicentre of that aftershock was located 315 kilometres northeast of Tokyo. Earlier, explosions and a fire at a quake-hit nuclear plant unleashed dangerous levels of radiation, sparking a collapse on the stock market and panic-buying in supermarkets. In towns and cities, fearful citizens stripped shelves of food and water, prompting the government to warn that panic-buying could hurt its ability to provide aid to areas devastated by Friday’s massive quake and tsunami.
But scared Tokyo residents filled outbound trains and rushed to shops to stock up on face masks and emergency supplies amid heightening fears of radiation headed their way. Radiation levels around the Fukushima No.1 plant on the eastern coast had “risen considerably”, Prime Minister Naoto Kan said, and his chief spokesman announced it had reached the point where it endangered human health.
In Tokyo, authorities also said that higher-than-normal radiation levels had been detected in the capital, the world’s biggest urban area, but not at harmful levels. Kan warned people living up to 10 kilometres beyond a 20 kilometre exclusion zone around the nuclear plant to stay indoors. “I would like to ask the nation, although this incident is of great concern, I ask you to react very calmly,” he said.
The fire, which was put out with the help of US troops, broke out in the plant’s number-four reactor, meaning that four of the facility’s six reactors were in trouble – and temperatures were reportedly rising in the other two. Radiation levels later dropped at both the plant and in Tokyo, said Yukio Edano, the chief spokesman for the government.
The UN weather agency said winds were currently blowing radioactive material towards the ocean, and that there were “no implications” for Japan or countries nearby. Meanwhile, the official death toll rose to 3,373 confirmed dead, police said, with the number of those unaccounted for at 6,746. Officials have said at least 10,000 were likely to have perished.
“What we most fear is a radiation leak from the nuclear plant,” Kaoru Hashimoto, 36, a housewife living in Fukushima city, 80 kilometres northwest of the stricken plant, told AFP by phone. Hashimoto said supermarkets were open but shelves were bare. “Many children are sick in this cold weather but pharmacies are closed. Emergency relief goods have not reached evacuation centres in the city.