Political Impact of the Fukushima Daiichi Accident in Europe
Abstract The description in this chapter mentions reactions in Europe on the Fukushima Daiichi accident, seen from the author's Swedish perspective, from the observation post offered by the Swedish Radiation Protection Institute, SSI (now the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority).
Keywords Fukushima impact in Europe • Past nuclear accidents • European nuclear policy
When interpreting the reactions on the Fukushima Daiichi accident in Europe— and elsewhere—it is valuable to know about some earlier accidents that affected people, notably the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl accidents. These accidents both had important impacts on popular views on nuclear power.
The Three Mile Island Accident
This accident was the first major accident in a civilian nuclear power plant. It occurred on Wednesday, March 28, 1979, in Three Mile Island, Dauphin County, Pennsylvania, near Harrisburg, United States. The containment was intact after the accident but a large amount of noble gases and some iodine was released. The official description of the consequences implied that the dose to individuals of the public most affected by the accident was marginally higher than the natural yearly dose. In the U.S., with its highly polarized nuclear debate, this has been disputed, but it was generally accepted by authorities in Europe. The general features of the official description of the release scenario would have been assumed in any case, based alone on the fact that the containment was intact and the absence of longlived nuclides outside the containment, leaving room only for some uncertainty about the amount of iodine released.
It was understood by the public that the releases would not threaten the safety of Europeans, but the fact that an accident had occurred in the motherland of nuclear power did trigger a general debate on the safety and wisdom of nuclear power production.
In Austria, a referendum half a year earlier had already led to a halt for nuclear power. This meant abandoning a newly built and licensed facility, the Zwentendorf Nuclear Power Plant, planned to produce 10 % of Austria's power. The accident, therefore, did not directly affect the nuclear policy, other than preventing Austria from looking back on the nuclear power alternative.
In a somewhat similar way as Austria, Sweden had a debate before the TMI accident, but it was related to final disposal of the waste. In Sweden, a referendum on nuclear power was held in March 1980, with 3 different alternatives: (1) No, accompanied by a phase—out period of 10 years; (2) Yes, but with phase out as alternatives become available; and (3) with partly similar text as (2). The second option was different from the third in that it also had a provision that required public ownership of nuclear reactors and taxation of part of the generated profit, the “surplus profit.” Alternatives 2 and 3 received a majority.
Also, a safety evaluation in Sweden lead the regulators, then SSI and SKI (The Swedish Nuclear Power Inspectorate), to require filtered containment venting systems for the Swedish reactors, to mitigate releases in an accident situation where the containment remained intact but with pressure build-up. The filters were required to stop 99.9 % of any release, noble gases and iodine excluded.
In the rest of Europe the Three Mile Island accident triggered an intensive debate, in particular in Germany.
The Chernobyl Accident
The accident occurred April 26, 1986 and had an important impact on several European states. Doses were significant in around Chernobyl, and elsewhere in Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, and iodine tablets were distributed in Poland. In Western Europe, individual doses attributable to Chernobyl were low, at most in the region of a few mSv and national averages were very low, in Sweden 0.01 mSv. However, counter-measures were significant and included prohibition of selling and advice against consumption of several types of foodstuffs, including game, reindeer, and fish from certain lakes.
In Ukraine and Belarus, the incidence of thyroid cancer increased as a result of the accident. Until 2005, approximately 6,000 cases of thyroid cancer in children (of whom 15 have died) were considered attributable to the accident . The collective dose was estimated to be around 0.5 million man * sievert.
After the accident at Chernobyl, the nuclear power debate flared up again. In Sweden the parliament, Riksdagen, made a declaration of intent that reaffirmed an earlier reference for the nuclear phase-out to be completed by 2010 and gave a timetable for early decommissioning of two reactors. The timetable decisions were later reversed, but the two units in Barsebäck were eventually halted (in 1999 and 2005, respectively) mainly because their proximity to—and the resultant pressure from—the Danish capital Copenhagen.
In Italy the power reactors were stopped in a decision in 1988 after a referendum 1987.