News / Europe

French President to Visit Crisis-Stricken Japan

French President Nicolas Sarkozy (file photo)
French President Nicolas Sarkozy (file photo)
Lisa Bryant

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is to be the first world leader to visit crisis-stricken Japan. Sarkozy's visit Thursday is shadowed by Europe's growing debate over the safety of nuclear energy, following the meltdown at Japan's Fukushima-Daichi nuclear plant.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy says his visit to Japan aims to express France's solidarity with the Japanese public. The country is reeling from an earthquake, tsunami and a nuclear crisis as workers struggle to bring Japan's stricken Fukushima-Daichi plant under control.

French nuclear experts were dispatched to Japan earlier this week to help deal with the crippled plant. Sarkozy's visit is to follow a stopover in China to attend a financial meeting of the G20, which France leads this year.

Japan's nuclear crisis has widened strong divisions in Europe about the safety and viability of nuclear power. During a European Union summit last week, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso announced European countries would be obliged to conduct safety tests on all their nuclear reactors by the year's end.

"The terrible events in Japan remind us that while we are of very different views and situations in the European Union regarding nuclear energy, we must be united on nuclear safety,” Barroso said. “We must ensure that the highest nuclear safety standards are respected."

With 58 reactors, more than a third of those across Europe, France is the region's leading nuclear energy user. More than 70 percent of French electricity comes from nuclear power.

In an interview this week on France's RTL radio, French Energy Minister Eric Besson was unequivocal about the importance of nuclear energy.

Besson said if the question was whether France and Europe should stop relying on nuclear power his personal response is, "No."

But Japan's crisis has strengthen the anti-nuclear movement in Europe, particularly in neighboring Germany, where concerns over nuclear power played a major role in the loss by Chancellor Angela Merkel's CDU party in a key state election last weekend.

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