G8 summit urges stringent nuclear safety rules


Leaders of the Group of Eight want more stringent international rules on nuclear safety following the disaster at Japan's Fukushima plant, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said at Deauville yesterday (26 May).

"We all wish to get a very high standard of regulation on nuclear safety, that will apply to all countries involved in civilian nuclear energy and which will take safety to the highest levels ever," Sarkozy told reporters at the summit in the northern French seaside resort of Deauville.

Sarkozy said there was no alternative to nuclear power and insisted that safety, not cost, had to drive projects.

"As far as nuclear is concerned the first criteria is that of safety," said Sarkozy. France produces the bulk of its electricity from nuclear power.

The French president did not say how regulation could be improved but other officials, including European Commission President José Manuel Barroso, have called for a review of the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) nuclear safety convention.

A top aide to Prime Minister Naoto Kan said Japan, still confronting the aftermath of the biggest nuclear accident since Chernobyl a quarter of a century ago, also favoured a review of the IAEA standards and stronger cooperation between national safety watchdogs.

Japan and the IAEA want to host an international conference on nuclear safety next year to share lessons from the accident, Kan's chief cabinet secretary Tetsuro Fukuyama also said.

Mandatory safety rules?

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who reversed a decision to extend the life span of Germany's nuclear plants after the Japan disaster, said she was reasonably happy with the wording on nuclear safety G8 leaders would use in their final communiqué.

"We need a better cooperation of all nuclear security organisations in the world," she told reporters. "This is remarkable progress compared to the present situation."

G8 member Russia, which has an important domestic nuclear power industry, wants to make the IAEA's safety standards compulsory and restrictions on building reactors in earthquake-prone areas.

Nikolay Spassky, deputy chief of Russia's state nuclear company Rosatom, said countries using nuclear power should be forced by international law to meet IAEA nuclear safety standards.

"This is definitely not the case today," he told reporters. "The responsibility of a state for taking timely and sufficient measures to respond to disasters should be introduced too."

However, diplomats at the Vienna-based IAEA say member states are split over the issue of mandatory international safety rules, and whether a body like the IAEA should have powers to enforce them.

Currently, the IAEA draws up safety recommendations but national authorities are mainly responsible for overseeing safety issues.

European nuclear watchdogs agreed on Wednesday to check the resilience of the region's 143 reactors to earthquakes and other natural disasters, in what are called "stress tests" (see 'Background').

But Barroso said such tests should not stop at Europe's borders: "When we talk nuclear, we talk global. We want nuclear stress tests to go beyond Europe."

Leaders to tie Arab spring aid to reform

On the second day of the G8 meeting, leaders are expected to approve billions of dollars in aid on Friday to new Arab democracies with a programme designed to foster change sweeping North Africa and the Middle East.

Leaders were to wrap up their two-day summit in northern France by launching a partnership with the region that ties aid and development cash to progress on democracy and economic reforms by states that have thrown off autocratic rulers.

The World Bank on Tuesday unveiled $6 billion in new funding for Tunisia and Egypt, whose revolts have inspired popular uprisings in Yemen, Jordan, Morocco and Syria, and left Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi fighting to stay in power.

Diplomatic sources said the summit would also back the extension of the mandate of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development into North Africa and the Middle East. The bank, created after the Cold War to help former Communist states become market economies, lends about 9 billion euros a year to projects anywhere from Croatia in central Europe to China.

Just ahead of the G8 summit, the European Commission unveiled a 20-page document, entitled 'A New Response to a Changing Neighbourhood', which ties the disbursing of funds to reform and provides for an increased role of EIB and EBRD [more].

EURACTIV with Reuters

Greenpeace urged heads of state attending this week's G8 summit to choose public health over private profit by backing a secure future powered by renewable energy.

"The ongoing Fukushima crisis has reminded us of the devastating legacy for public health and the environment caused by nuclear disasters," said Kumi Naidoo, executive director of Greenpeace International, at the G8.

"The other G8 leaders need to take inspiration from decisions made by Germany's Angela Merkel and Japan's Naoto Kan to steer away from nuclear power towards a clean energy revolution," continued Naidoo. "A world powered by renewable energy is within our grasp - it is possible to meet the majority of the world's energy needs with just a fraction of the available renewable energy," he stated.

Following the 11 March earthquake and tsunami in Japan and the nuclear tragedy at Fukushima, European leaders agreed on 25 March to set the "highest standards" of nuclear safety and submit all plants to "stress tests”.

The 143 nuclear power plants operating in Europe, plus the six under construction and the 15 planned, should be able to withstand any possible threat, including a malicious plane crash like the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the US, a cyber attack or acts by an operator who has lost his or her mind, EU leaders agreed in March.

According to a compromise reached this week, all 143 nuclear power plants in the EU will be re-assessed under a two-track approach. Under the first track, from 1 June, the installations would be checked for ‘safety’ under a traditional approach, including some novelties such as a ‘peer review’ by internationally recognized experts.

But as several EU countries insisted that the Commission had no competence on "security" matters, which include terrorism threats, this issue was left for later decision making, with no clear deadline.

The European Commission is also working to extend the stress tests to other countries, in particular Switzerland, Russia, Ukraine and Armenia.

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