Nuclear sector needs major safety investment, report says


Europe's nuclear reactors need investment of €10 billion to €25 billion, a draft Commission report says following a safety review designed to avoid a repeat of the Fukushima disaster. EURACTIV obtained an advanced copy of the Commission's 57-page technical report on the stress tests conducted recently.

The report is expected to be finalised by Thursday (4 October) and debated by EU ministers later this month.

After that, the Commission intends in 2013 to propose new laws, including on insurance and liability to "improve the situation of potential victims in the event of a nuclear accident", the draft seen by Reuters said.

Of the 134 EU nuclear reactors grouped across 68 sites, 111 have more than 100,000 inhabitants living within a circle of 30 kilometres.

Safety regimes vary greatly and the amount that needs to be spent to improve them is estimated at anywhere between 30 million and €200 million per reactor unit – or 10 billion to €25 billion across the industry.

The lesson of Japan's Fukushima incident was that two natural disasters could hit at the same time and knock out the electrical supply system of a plant completely, so it could not be cooled down.

The stress test findings include that four reactors, located in two different nations, have less than one hour available to restore safety functions if electrical power is lost.

By contrast, four countries operate additional safety systems fully independent from the normal safety measures and located in areas well-protected against external events.

A fifth nation is considering that option. The stress tests are a voluntary exercise to establish whether nuclear plants can withstand natural disasters, aircraft crashes and management failures, as well as whether adequate systems are in place to deal with power disruptions.

All 14 EU countries that operate nuclear plants took part, as did Lithuania, which is decommissioning its nuclear units. From outside the 27-member bloc, Switzerland and Ukraine joined the test regime.

The nuclear stress tests were meant to have been completed around the middle of the year, but member states were given extra time to assess more reactors.

Non-governmental organisations are among those who have criticised the stress tests for not going far enough and having no power to force the shut-down of a nuclear plant.

The draft report says the stress tests are not a one-off exercise and will be followed up. Existing legislation also needs to be enforced, it said.

The deadline for transposing the existing nuclear safety directive into national law was July 2011. The Commission started infringement proceedings against 12 member states that missed that deadline.

To date, two member states have still not complied but the report did not specified which ones. The Commission does not comment on leaked drafts. On Monday, the EU energy spokeswoman said the recommendations were being finalised and would not be very detailed.

Greens/EFA co-president Rebecca Harms commented on the leaked draft:

"The final report of the EU nuclear stress test charade looks set to dodge all the tough questions as expected. One thing seems clear: this exercise has been orchestrated to cause as little stress to the nuclear industry as possible.

"While the report found deficiencies in many of Europe's nuclear reactors, there are no real proposals for follow-up. However, the fact that the stress tests failed to address risks in crucial areas - ageing technology, terrorist attacks or human error - is a more damning indictment of the whole exercise."

Following the 11 March 2011 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 stress tests will examine whether nuclear power plants can withstand the effects of natural disasters such as earthquakes and floods and, secondarily, man-made actions such as plane crashes and terror attacks.

The 143 nuclear power plants operating in Europe, plus the six under construction and 15 planned, are all included within the EU's stress test remit. Switzerland and the Ukraine are also participating in the stress tests. In parallel, the EU is reviewing its nuclear safety legislation.

  • Autumn 2012: Final nuclear stress tests data expected to be handed in to the European Commission.
  • End 2012/Beginning 2013: European Commission to decide on need for further legislation after analysing the stress tests.

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