Commission President José Manuel Barroso expects a decision to be taken on the exact scope of the stress tests, following a decision in principle by EU leaders at their latest summit (see 'Background'), the EU executive announced today (11 May).
A meeting of the European Nuclear Safety Regulators Group (ENSREG) tomorrow (12 May) in Brussels is expected to reach a compromise on the methodology for the tests.
Commission spokesperson Marlene Holzner said Barroso expected a decision from the meeting to make the stress tests as stringent as possible.
But she admitted that in the absence of a consensus, efforts would continue, as there was no deadline for making a decision.
Stress tests would include terrorist attacks, man-made disasters such as malicious manipulation by an operator, and more, she said.
"If a power plant was built to withstand [an earthquake] magnitude of six [on the Richter Scale], it needs now to prove that it can withstand a higher magnitude. The same is with floods and other natural disasters," says a paper circulated today by the services of EU Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger.
Holzner cautioned that the EU had no authority to order a nuclear plant to shut down if it failed the test. However, "operators usually follow our advice," she said.
National governments would therefore have responsibility to explain to the public any decision to continue operating a plant that is considered unsafe.
The Commission had more leverage with regard to nuclear plants under construction, Holzner said. Without its green light, no plant under construction could secure funding from a bank, she explained.
She cited the example of two additional reactors under construction at the Mochovce plant in Slovakia, which failed to get the Commission's blessing.
However, with regard to older installations, the Commission's leverage appears to be limited.
Asked what would happen if a large member state like France was to push for less stringent stress tests, she was clear: "If the purpose is not to close nuclear installations, then no stress tests should be conducted at all."