EU offers to help cool down Fukushima reactors

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The EU will formally offer to help Japan cool down stricken reactors at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, the European Commission announced today (18 March). The issue will be discussed in more depth at an extraordinary meeting of EU energy ministers to be held on Monday.

Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger will call on the energy ministers of all 27 EU countries to coordinate any technical assistance that may be requested by the Japanese authorities, his spokesperson Marlene Holzner told the press.

Such help could include sending materials and equipment to Japan, while the Commission stands ready to provide any technical assistance Japan may consider useful, she said.

During the extraordinary council, convened by the Hungarian EU Presidency, Oettinger will follow up on this week's agreement that safety 'stress tests' will be carried out at nuclear power plants across Europe.

Asked by EURACTIV to provide details of possible assistance with cooling down the reactors at Fukushima, Holzner said Oettinger would recommend to energy ministers that should Japan ask for help, then equipment, technical assistance and advice must be made available without delay.

Holzner said that although the latest reports appeared to suggest that the situation was improving, equipment to cool down the reactors would be needed for many months to come.

As an example, she said that according to fresh information received from the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency), the cooling time for reactor No. 1 will be 357 days.

"That's why we think it's appropriate to offer Japan any technical assistance they may need," she explained.

Asked specifically whether the EU would offer also on-site expert help, despite the dangers of radiation, Holzner said that should the Japanese authorities make such a request, the EU would look into it.

Japan is still a long way from resolving its nuclear crisis despite some signs of progress on Friday, and restoring power to the Fukushima plant is its best hope, European experts quoted by Reuters said.

Restoring power to the plant from the mains might allow water to be pumped in to cool down the crippled reactors and spent fuel stores, they reasoned, saying it was too early to consider burying the complex in concrete or sand.

Japanese engineers said on Friday that burying the crippled nuclear reactors in sand and concrete may be considered as a last resort to prevent further radiation release, the method used to seal huge leakages from Chernobyl in 1986.

The Japanese authorities said today (18 March) that the core damage at the Fukushima Daiichi reactor units 2 and 3, which was caused by the loss of all cooling functions, had been rated five on the seven-grade INES scale.

Core damage at reactor unit 1, also caused by the loss of all cooling functions, was also increased to five from its previous rating of four. 

The loss of cooling and water supply functions in the spent fuel pool of reactor unit 4 has been rated as three.

Until now the Japanese authorities had rated the overall damage at Fukushima at four on a scale of seven.

Only the 1986 Chernobyl disaster rates seven, while the second largest nuclear catastrophe before Fukushima, the Three Mile Island accident of 1979, ranks four.

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