Slovene reactor scare puts spotlight on nuclear safety

Friday, June 6, 2008

A coolant leak at a nuclear power plant in Slovenia has been contained, but the incident has brought renewed attention to the debate over whether nuclear offers a safe low-carbon option in the fight against climate change.

"Slovenian authorities have confirmed that there has been no discharge to the environment. The situation can be considered fully under control," the Commission said in a press statement today (5 June).

The leak, which occurred yesterday (4 June) in the main reactor of the Krško nuclear plant in South West Slovenia, was communicated the same day by plant operators to the European Community Urgent Radiological Information Exchange (ECURIE) system under the EU's nuclear safety alert process.

"The reactor of the Nuclear Power Plant of Krško was shut down completely at 7:30pm" and "the relatively small leakage remained within the containment building," the Commission's statement added.

While any serious environmental or safety fallout was avoided, the incident comes at a sensitive time since the EU is endorsing nuclear as part of efforts to slash EU CO2 emissions by at least 20% by 2020.

Nuclear remains a controversial topic in many EU countries, but a number of member states have indicated they will rely on the technology in their future energy mix.

Greenpeace, which campaigns actively against the use of nuclear energy, said the incident "stands as a testament to the threat that all of Europe's nuclear facilities pose to its population and environment and beyond. Those who are planning to build more nuclear reactors must heed this warning and reject nuclear technology".

The Greens in the Parliament were sceptical that the leak did not spread beyond the plant, following an apparent "increase in radiation levels was recorded on 3 June, the night before the alarm was sounded," the group said in a statement.

"We are still being kept in the dark about the exact content of the announcement from Slovenia that led to the warning system being activated. What kind of technical problem occurred in the primary cooling system?," the statement added.

Slovenian Christian Democrat MEP Romana Jordan Cizelj, meanwhile, said "the incident had no impact on public or workers' health and there were no harmful releases into the environment. There was no increase in radiation in the surrounding region".

Slovenia's Environment Ministry also released a statement. "No radioactive leaks occurred during the incident, and there is no risk of that occurring now," it said.

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