Sunday

1st May 2016

Critics cry foul after EU 'stress tests' give all clear to nuclear plants

  • The EU says it wants to learn from Fukushima (Photo: DigitalGlobe)

Nuclear power plants in Europe are in good enough shape to withstand a Fukushima-type scenario, the European Commission has indicated amid scathing criticism from environmental groups.

Presenting preliminary findings on Thursday (24 November) of a series of so-called "stress tests" requested by national governments after an earthquake and tsunami in March triggered nuclear meltdown in Japan, commission officials said safety margins could be improved but the bloc's 143 plants are safe to keep on working.

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The tests measure "extreme natural events [like earthquakes or floods], response to the plants prolonged loss of electrical power, and severe accident management."

They were designed by the European Nuclear Safety Regulators Group - an umbrella structure covering the EU's national regulators and the European Commission and were carried out by the operators of the power plants themselves.

The findings as published by the commission are a collection of summaries of reports sent in by the regulators in the 14 member states which operate nuclear plants. Lithuania, currently dismantling old "Chernobyl-type" reactors, Switzerland and Ukraine also took part.

Not a single regulator identified urgent safety improvements, while almost all provided "limited" to "very limited information" according to the commission's own statement.

The officials were eager to emphasise the interim nature of the findings, saying final results are expected by the end of the year. They will then be subject to peer review from national regulators and officially presented by June 2012.

For its part, environmental NGO Greenpeace did not wait to lambast the tests as containing "major gaps."

In one example, it pointed out they do not cover evacuation plans for the area surrounding a plant, but 19 of the power stations are located within 30km of towns with 100,000 or more people.

Greenpeace spokesman Jan Haverkamp said: “Technically, the tests look like Swiss cheese. They’ve only looked at on-site safety, for example. And at whether they have enough cooling water when an airplane crashes, when there are so many other things to look at.”

The Green group in the European Parliament called the exercise a "charade."

"The tests totally fail to address the risks to nuclear power plants in Europe," German MEP and group vice-president Rebecca Harms said at a press conference on Tuesday.

"The tests not only fail to assess the risks posed by internal factors - like fires, human failures or the degradation or malfunctioning of essential infrastructure. They also fail to assess the risks of external threats - such as the impact of an airplane crash."

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