Brussels unveils latest nuclear safety rules
By Honor Mahony
The European Commission on Thursday (13 June) unveiled new ideas designed to prevent large-scale nuclear accidents happening in Europe.
Under the proposals - which the commission hopes will be agreed next year - all 132 nuclear plants in the EU will be subject to a review by a multi-national team once every six years.
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Member states must commit to giving the plants a thorough examination at least once a decade, while plans to extend the lifetime of a reactor can only be given the go-ahead after it has been given a specific health check.
The rules would also see national regulators keeping up with the most modern technology and making public a strategy on how they would inform citizens in case of an accident.
Energy commissioner Guenther Oettinger called it a "comprehensive proposal," noting that it represents "substantial progress" in bringing "nuclear safety into the European domain."
He admitted the commission could have done more, but said some member states - particularly France, which operates 58 reactors - are reluctant to give Brussels new powers in this area.
"I am a realistic man," he said, adding "we've made a realistic proposal."
He noted that five years ago "there was nothing happening at the European level. There will be further steps. But this step is a big one."
The EU proposal was prompted by the nuclear disaster in Japan's Fukishima plant in 2011, where three reactors melted down following an earthquake and a tsunami. Around 160,000 people were forced to evacuate.
The incident caused much debate in Europe about the state of its own facilities and the nature of nuclear power, with Germany now due to phase out nuclear energy by 2022 as a direct result.
Meanwhile, stress tests carried out in the aftermath of the Japan incident revealed last autumn that nearly all plants in the 14 member states which use nuclear power need safety improvements.
Green groups were critical of Oettinger's proposal.
Greenpeace said it does "little to rule out a European Fukushima" and said it does not factor in deliberate sabotage or terrorism.
"The proposed partial testing of nuclear power plants every six years would also leave some parts of a plant untouched for decades," said the NGO.
German Green MEP Rebecca Harms called the proposal "seriously underwhelming."
Meanwhile, Oettinger is set come with a likely more controversial proposal by the end of the year on insuring nuclear plants.