The European Commission on Thursday (13 June) published a draft nuclear safety law that includes mandatory EU-wide reviews every six years in response to lessons learnt from the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan.
In the aftermath of the Japanese nuclear tragedy at Fukushima in March 2011, the European Union carried out stress tests to examine the resilience of nuclear power stations and the new proposals build on conclusions drawn from the tests.
The Commission's proposals call on member states to carry out reviews on pre-agreed topics every six years and can send inspectors to specific countries if it feels reviews are delayed or not implemented properly.
"There are 132 nuclear reactors in operation in Europe today. Our task at the Commission is to make sure that safety is given the utmost priority in every single one of them," Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger said in a statement.
Following the stress tests, the Commission found that safety improvements costing anywhere between €10 billion and €25 billion were necessary in European nuclear plants.
The draft law proposed calls for the strengthening safety enclosures to prevent radioactive leaks.
National regulators also have to draft a strategy on how to communicate with the public in case of an accident and citizens must be given the opportunity to take part in the decision-making process to grant licences to new nuclear plants.
Nuclear energy is a contentious topic in Europe, with some member states such as Germany and Austria against its future use, while France and Britain plan to build new reactors.
More than 40% of Europe's operating nuclear power reactors are located in France, while four more are under construction in Finland, France and Slovakia and another eight are planned.
Reacting to the publication of the proposal of the proposal, Greenpeace nuclear energy expert Jan Haverkamp said: “These new rules will do little to rule out a European Fukushima. They ignore the human factor, terrorism and sabotage. Planning for emergency evacuations in the event of an accident is similarly inadequate. The proposed partial testing of nuclear power plants every six years would also leave some parts of a plant untouched for decades, meaning it could take several rounds of testing for some elements of a plant to be checked. If anything, this proposal demonstrates that nuclear safety is a utopia."
"The proposals fail to set out up-to-date safety criteria for nuclear power plants, which live up to the latest scientific and technical standards. As with the toothless EU nuclear stress tests, the risks of terrorist attacks or sabotage are completely ignored. Commissioner Oettinger makes clear that the bottom line of the nuclear industry comes first, leaving public safety as an inconvenient afterthought," said Greens/EFA co-president Rebecca Harms.
“Today’s draft proposal is a good basis for discussion on how to improve the nuclear safety culture in Europe. We particularly welcome the plan to strengthen the role and independence of the national regulators while respecting member states' responsibility and expertise," said MEP Pilar del Castillo Vera, EPP Group Spokeswoman in the Industry, Research and Energy Committee of the European Parliament.
Following the 11 March 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan and the nuclear tragedy at Fukushima, European leaders agreed to set the "highest standards" of nuclear safety and submit all plants to "stress tests”.
The tests examined whether nuclear power plants could withstand the effects of natural disasters such as earthquakes and floods and, secondarily, man-made actions such as plane crashes and terror attacks.
The tests covered 143 nuclear power plants operating in Europe, plus those under construction and 15 planned. Switzerland and Ukraine also participated in the tests.
- European Commission: New nuclear safety directive
- European Commission: EU Nuclear Stress Tests: Legally binding reviews every six years