UPDATE 2-EU energy chief alarms markets with Japan warning

Wed Mar 16, 2011 2:12pm EDT

Related Topics

* EU energy chief warns of imminent catastrophe in Japan

* Financial markets fall on Oettinger's warning

* Spokeswoman says his view based on fears, media reports

(Releads with spokeswoman's clarification, market reaction)

By Pete Harrison

BRUSSELS, March 16 (Reuters) - Europe's energy chief warned of a further catastrophe at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear site on Wednesday, prompting a global market sell-off, but his spokeswoman said he had no special information on the stricken plant.

Addressing a committee of the European Parliament, Guenther Oettinger said the situation at the earthquake-damaged plant was now "effectively out of control" and urged people to leave the country.

"In the coming hours there could be further catastrophic events which could pose a threat to the lives of people on the island," the 57-year-old former premier of the German region of Baden-Wuerttemberg said.

"One has to be basically concerned that the whole thing is in God's hands," he said. "The French government has advised its citizens to leave Japan. This should be the advice to other people there too."

Financial markets dived on his warnings, with shares in London, Paris, Frankfurt and New York falling sharply, while oil prices rose.

London's FTSE 100 .FTSE share index fell 1.4 percent on the day, Germany's DAX .DAX ended down 1.8 percent and France's CAC-40 .CAC40 was 2.0 percent lower. The U.S. Dow Jones Industrial Average .DJI was last down 1.97 percent.

Brent crude oil prices rose more than $3 a barrel after the warning, before falling back later when Oettinger's spokeswoman, Marlene Holzner, clarified his position.

"He just wanted to share his concern and that he was really touched by all the images of people and the victims ... and in this sense, he said that according to what we have seen in the media it seems that in the nuclear power plants at the moment we do not have technical control," Holzner told Reuters Insider TV.

"He referred to media reports that say that we could imagine there is a partial meltdown.

"He did not look in a crystal ball and say this will happen in the next few hours... It's just his personal fear that the situation could worsen," she said.

When asked about Oettinger's comments, U.N. nuclear watchdog chief Yukiya Amano said: "It is not the time to say things are out of control". [ID:nWEA9029]

Oettinger's experts are closely watching the situation in Japan, but they are largely relying on a mixture of reports from Amano's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), EU experts on the ground and the international media.

Since the crisis emerged, Oettinger, a former lawyer who was appointed energy chief in January last year, has moved quickly to try to forge a pan-European response in an area where the European Commission has rarely intervened in the past.

Oettinger has previously commented on the international outlook for oil prices, which is also not his main area of responsibility. His chief focus is on overhauling Europe's energy infrastructure to include more renewable energy sources.

(Additional reporting by Luke Baker and Ilona Wissenbach, Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

FILED UNDER:
Comments (0)
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.