Nuclear energy foes see warning in Japan crisis

A Japanese government spokesman said radioactive meltdowns may have occurred in two reactors at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in eastern Japan, which was badly hit by the 8.9-magnitude quake that hammered the area on Friday.

The eyes of the world were anxiously locked on the unfolding emergency after a blast blew off the housing of one reactor after it overheated while a second was also overheating and at risk of exploding.

The drama fuelled the arguments of ardent nuclear foes in Australia, which supplies much of the uranium used in the world's reactors, including to the company that runs the stricken Japanese reactors, campaigners said.

"The terrible human cost of the earthquake in Japan is being made even worse by radiation escaping from damaged nuclear reactors," said David Noonan of the non-profit environmental group, Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF).

"Nuclear is a high cost, high risk electricity option that has no place in a sustainable energy future," he said, accusing Australia of "fuelling trouble" by exporting uranium used in nuclear reactors.

Japanese officials were reportedly pumping in sea water to cool the overheating reactors, a move US experts described as an "act of desperation" that could foreshadow a Chernobyl-like disaster.

Proponents of nuclear power as a cleaner alternative to coal-fired power stations have been given a major boost as many nations seek energy sources that emit fewer greenhouse gases that scientists say cause global warming.

The decades-old debate over whether nations should rely more on nuclear power to feed growing electricity demand has been reignited in countries such as the United States, Germany and Australia as leaders struggle to limit emissions.

Germany's parliament decided in 2009 to row back on plans to phase out nuclear power and to prolong its dependency on the energy source, prompting tens of thousands of activists to protest in Berlin yesterday.

The debate is alive in the United States too, where 20 percent of electricity comes from nuclear power, although no new nuclear power plants have been built in around 30 years.

Calls to replace smoke-billowing coal plants with cleaner atomic power stations have become more prominent in Australia, which has no nuclear power stations and where the current government opposes atomic energy at home.

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