Environment

Nuclear stress tests fail EU scrutiny

27.04.12 @ 09:28

  1. By Nikolaj Nielsen
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BRUSSELS - Twenty-six years to the day after the Chernobyl disaster, the European Commission has said Europe's nuclear stress test study is lacking in essential data.

  • A freak green-coloured snowfall in Russia on the day of the Chernobyl anniversary caused public concern (Photo: ipinkbear)

The year-long tests - initiated in March 2011 following the Fukushima meltdown in Japan - are designed to show that European-based nuclear power plants pose no threat.

The European Commission, a self-declared friend of the nuclear sector, on Thursday (26 April) said the study has failed to provide a complete picture however. The commission intends to fill in the missing data by returning to the sites.

"We will do additional visits of power plants and analyse some safety aspects in more detail. EU citizens have the right to know and understand how safe the nuclear power plants are they live close to. Soundness is more important than timing," EU energy commissioner Gunther Oettinger in a statement.

The commission and the European Nuclear Safety Regulators Group (Esnreg) want to see if Europe's nuclear plants can withstand the force of natural disasters, airplane crashes, fires and terrorist attacks.

Nuclear plant operators carried out self-assessment tests and handed in their reports to national regulators last year. The national regulatory authorities then analysed and verified the findings, which were finally compiled into national progress reports.

The national reports were submitted to the Commission for peer review from experts in nuclear safety. But Ensreg found a lack of consistency in the assessment of natural hazards and a need for regular assessments and implementations of known safety measures.

Ensreg pointed out that emergency response centres need to be improved, rapid deployment and availability of rescue teams and equipment for local operators also need to be improved. Tankers and other "mobile equipment" are not adequately protected against extreme natural hazards, it added.

Some 147 nuclear power stations underwent the tests in 15 member states as well as Ukraine and Switzerland. Lithuania, which has decommissioned its two nuclear reactors but which is building a new one, also participated.

Lithuania's new reactor at the Ignalina site is in a known earthquake zone. It signed a preliminary contract with Hitachi on 30 March. The plant is scheduled to become operational by 2020.

Belarus - not part of the survey - is also building a large nuclear power station in the region, just 50 kilometers away from Vilnius.

The Geological Survey of Lithuania says around 40 earthquakes of significant size have struck the region, near and around the Belarus-border, since the 17th century. "The area selected for the new [Belarus facility] experienced the strongest earthquake ... in the history of Belarus," the Lithuanian foreign ministry told EUobsever by email in March. The 7.0 quake struck in 1909.

In 2001, the Ignalina area registered a 2.1 quake. A tremor in 2004 registered 5.3 on the Richter scale in Vilnius.

The commission statement came out on the 26th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster.

A freak green-coloured snowfall in Russia the same day raised public worries that something had gone wrong again. But Russian authorities said the phenomenon was caused by pollen.