Can an earthquake make Japan rethink its reliance on nuclear energy? Probably not but it demonstrates the general lack of confidence of the public in the nuclear energy as a safe form of energy.
Last week a 6.8 Richter-scale earthquake killed nine people and injured more than 1000 rendering it one of the most catastrophic earthquakes in years. What scared most the residents who live in the Kashiwazaki area hit by the earthquake was not the human loss but the black smoke coming out of a nuclear plant. The operator of the plant announced that a small amount of radioactive water had leaked from the plant, but there was no risk. The local newspaper called the leak a great shock: "What make us shudder was a nuclear plant was hit by a bigger-than-expected earthquake."
Japan is an earthquake-prone country as it endures 20 percent of the world's major earthquakes while it relies heavily on nuclear power due to the lack of natural resources. Nuclear plants in Japan are built to withstand earthquakes but the one that hit the country last week was 2.5 times greater than what the plant was built to withstand.
The building of nuclear plants is met with public opposition in Japan, which is always on the look out for failures in safety as it is the only country in the world that was the subject of a nuclear attack.
News Source: Japan quake sparks fears over atomic energy, Agence France-Presse, July 17, 2007
In the meantime, nuclear jitters are evident in Germany due to a fire on June 28, 2007 at the Krummel nuclear power plant operated by Vattenfall Europe. While some 130 reactor incidents happen annually in Germany, that go unnoticed, the fire at Krummel attracted a lot of public attention. Germany is planning to phase out its use of nuclear power by 2020. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), however, has questioned that decision. According to the IAEA, phasing out nuclear power will limit Germany's capability to reduce greenhouse gases.
For the debate in Germany about the future of nuclear power, see
Political Meltdown: German Mishaps Put Nuclear Power under Scrutiny, Der Spiegel, July 16, 2007