ROME/PARIS (Reuters) - Europe must drop nuclear energy after a radiation leak from Japan's earthquake-damaged atomic reactor proved there are no safety guarantees, European green groups said on Saturday.
Opposition politicians and environmental groups in France, Italy and Germany said Europe had no chance of protecting its people from nuclear accidents if technologically advanced Japan could not secure its atomic reactors from natural disasters.
Opinion polls show that many Europeans mistrust nuclear energy, with government efforts to try to market it as a clean alternative to fossil fuels hampered by memories of the 1986 Chernobyl explosion which sent radioactive clouds across Europe.
"What happened in Japan shows that safe nuclear power does not exist even when you have the most advanced technology," said Felice Belisario from the opposition Italy of Values party.
"The risks, above all in countries with high seismic zones like Italy, are too big."
Italy, which is prone to earthquakes, is the only Group of Eight industrialised nation that does not produce nuclear power, but Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi wants atomic plants to generate a quarter of the country's electricity in the future.
Fabrizio Cicchitto, leader of Berlusconi's PDL party in the lower house said Italy would not change its plans. "The position remains what it is, you can't keep changing that we have energy problems," he told reporters in Rome.
A national referendum is expected to go ahead on the construction of nuclear power plants and it is due to be held between mid-April and mid-June.
Officials in France and Germany, home to many of Europe's nuclear reactors, swiftly held meetings to discuss the implications of Japan's radiation leak, and consider possible safeguards. France said it would consider ways to protect its overseas territories.
But Japan was keen to ease any fears, saying radiation levels were low and the reactor core was intact.
Nuclear experts also said the explosion at the Japanese reactor should not reach the magnitude of Chernobyl.
France, the second biggest nuclear energy producer after the United States, said it would discuss ways of securing its 58 reactors, spread across 19 sites, that provide almost four-fifths of the country's electricity.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel also called a meeting of senior cabinet ministers, mindful that her decision to keep Germany's 17 nuclear power plants running for about 12 years beyond their shutdown dates stirred large-scale protests.
The opposition says several German nuclear plants could not withstand a direct hit by an aircraft or an earthquake.
"(It shows that) we cannot master nature, nature rules us," said Renate Kuenast, the Green's parliamentary leader.
French green groups said no government could say with certainty that any reactor was safe.
"The nuclear risk is not a risk that can really be controlled," Cecile Duflot, head of the green Europe Ecologie-Les Verts party, told Reuters in Paris.
Writing by Elizabeth Piper, Editing by Janet Lawrence