Five years ago, on 11 March 2011, a flood wave caused by a severe earthquake in Japan led to a core meltdown in the four blocks of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. High levels of radioactivity were released with devastating consequences for people and the environment. Federal Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks will travel to Japan in May to learn about the work being carried out on the site of the Fukushima I nuclear power plant and to visit the evacuated areas.
Minister Hendricks stated: "Today we are commemorating the victims of this triple disaster. Our thoughts are with the families and friends of the victims. But even among those who survived, thousands are still suffering from the consequences of the catastrophe. It destroyed their livelihoods and their homes, in some cases forever. An end to the recovery process is still not in sight.
25 years after Chernobyl, the dreadful events in Fukushima have opened our eyes to the dangers of using nuclear power and the horrible consequences nuclear accidents have for people, nature and the environment.
The world had to learn that even in a highly developed country such as Japan, there is always a risk. Nuclear power can never be 100 percent controlled. In the case of an accident, vast areas are destroyed. The consequences remain a burden for generations to come. It is clear to me that nuclear power does not have a future. It is not going to prevail globally, not least because renewable energies are now providing a clean and competitive alternative.
In Germany, we are well on track with the phase-out of nuclear energy. Only eight of the 17 nuclear power plants that were in operation five years ago are still producing electricity, and contrary to what the nuclear lobby has claimed, the lights have not gone out. At the end of 2022, the commercial use of nuclear power in Germany will be history. We have to ensure the highest level of safety for the operation of our nuclear power plants right up to the very last day. That is my top priority."
After the nuclear disaster in Fukushima, a broad consensus was reached in Germany to phase out nuclear power as quickly as possible in a step-by-step process. In addition, stress tests were carried out on all nuclear power plants. The lessons learned from these tests were compiled in a national action plan, which is being implemented by the federal and Länder supervisory authorities together with the operators, and is updated and published annually.
The events in Fukushima have taught us that emergency planning is indispensable, regardless of the likelihood of a nuclear accident. This is why, after the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the Federal Environment Ministry asked the Commission on Radiological Protection (SSK) to review the scientific foundations for emergency preparedness and response in Germany and the corresponding rules and regulations. The Commission consequently adopted five new recommendations, updated four older recommendations and combined another 76 individual recommendations in a comprehensive assessment. The Commission recommended in particular extending the planning areas for immediate disaster response measures in the vicinity of operational nuclear power plants and redefining the zones.
Key emergency response measures include evacuation, sheltering and thyroid blocking. The recommendations take into account extremely unlikely severe accidents in nuclear power plants, for example releases of considerable amounts of radioactivity following containment failure. The federal and Länder interior ministers have approved the recommendations. It is now up to the competent authorities to make the recommendations operational and implement them. In case of a nuclear accident, the federal and Länder authorities coordinate their approach to thyroid blocking and their assessment of the radiological threats.
Radioactivity does not stop at borders. There are several nuclear power plants in our neighbouring countries that are close to the German border. This is why we need a joint approach to emergency response in Europe. This will also enhance our level of protection. On the initiative of the Federal Environment Ministry, the heads of the European radiological protection and nuclear safety authorities agreed for the first time at the end of 2014 on a common European strategy for the management of severe nuclear accidents. The strategy contains an assessment scheme for the highly unlikely event of a severe accident, and transboundary recommendations for the immediate emergency response measures to be taken.