EU energy chief says Japan reactor "out of control"

BRUSSELS Wed Mar 16, 2011 2:01pm EDT

EU Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger holds a news conference after a meeting with nuclear experts from the European Union in Brussels, March 15, 2011, to coordinate EU policy in light of Japan's nuclear crisis. REUTERS/Yves Herman

EU Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger holds a news conference after a meeting with nuclear experts from the European Union in Brussels, March 15, 2011, to coordinate EU policy in light of Japan's nuclear crisis.

Credit: Reuters/Yves Herman

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BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Europe's energy chief warned on Wednesday of a further catastrophe at Japan's nuclear site "in the coming hours" but his spokeswoman said he had no specific or privileged information on the situation.

"In the coming hours there could be further catastrophic events which could pose a threat to the lives of people on the island," Commissioner Guenther Oettinger told a committee of the European Parliament.

"There is as yet no panic, but Tokyo, with 35 million people, is the largest metropolis in the world," he said.

When asked, his spokeswoman said his prediction of a catastrophe in the hours ahead was not based on any specific privileged information.

Oettinger's experts are relying largely on a mixture of reports from the International Atomic Energy Agency and the international media to monitoring Japan's nuclear crisis.

He said the nuclear site was "effectively out of control," with the cooling systems not working. "As a result we are somewhere between a disaster and a major disaster," he said.

Since the crisis emerged, Oettinger has moved quickly to try to forge a pan-European response in an area where the European Commission has rarely intervened in the past.

Nuclear policy has previously been left up to Europe's 27 member states on a government by government basis.

The European Union and Switzerland have 148 nuclear reactors between them, 19 of which are boiling water reactors as used at Fukushima in Japan, but only two of those are of a similar design, industry body Foratom says.

Oettinger said not all of the EU's 143 plants would pass nuclear "stress tests," which he is planning to conduct in the months ahead.

Oettinger, previously the governor of Germany's Baden-Wuerttenberg, was appointed commissioner for energy in January 2010.

His main focus has so far been on overhauling Europe's energy infrastructure to accept more renewable energy sources.

(Reporting by Pete Harrison, Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

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