Sunday

23rd Feb 2020

EU nuclear waste proposals include export ban

  • 14 EU states currently have nuclear power plants (Photo: Bigod)

New European Commission proposals will require EU member states to bury their radioactive waste deep underground, with overseas exports of the toxic byproduct also set to be banned.

The draft plans put forward by the EU executive on Wednesday (3 November) could pose a problem for countries that lack the suitable geological substrate for underground burial, while the export ban to non-EU countries may also run into government opposition.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or join as a group

EU energy commissioner Guenther Oettinger defended the draft rules as a necessary measure to enforce International Atomic Energy standards. "If an accident happens in one country, it can have devastating effects also in others," he told journalists in Brussels.

He added he was confident that member states would adopt the plans, despite former rejections of similar legislation.

"Today the acceptance is much higher than in the past," he said. "We don't want to export nuclear waste to third countries, frequently with lower safety standards. That cheap solution is out of the question."

Russia is one country that stands to lose from the new arrangement, if it gets the go-ahead from EU member states, with the importing of nuclear waste followed by burial in Siberia currently a lucrative business. A number of African countries have also expressed an interest in developing similar schemes.

EU exports are significantly down on earlier years however, with only Bulgaria still exporting spent fuel to Russia for reprocessing, an EU official said.

The new rules, whose legal basis is the 1957 Euratom treaty, will compel national governments to present detailed programmes within four years of their adoption, indicating when, where and how they will construct and manage final repositories for high-level spent fuel and radioactive waste.

While the EU currently has 143 nuclear power plants in 14 of the its 27 member states, no final repositories exist for the roughly 7,000 cubic meters of high-level waste produced each year. At present, only France, Sweden and Finland have plans to build the secure final resting places for the waste.

As a result, the majority of the toxic substance is kept in interim storages.

"Each member state will have its own timetable ... because of different appeal procedures," Mr Oettinger said, explaining why no fixed deadline for the building of the repositories is to be set.

Using another EU country's repository may also be an option. "The geological criteria we are setting may not exist in a particular member state, especially a small one, so we want co-operation [between states]," said the German politician, reserving the right to come forward with new draft rules in a few years time.

Environmental group Greenpeace slammed the new proposals, saying the commission was falsely exaggerating the safety of deep geological storage to support its nuclear energy agenda.

"This proposal is little more than a PR exercise to try and persuade Europeans that nuclear waste can be dealt with," said Greenpeace campaigner Jan Haverkamp in a statement. "There are gaps in the science and no [safe] disposal site currently exists, yet the Commission is claiming this is a proven method."

Mr Oettinger rebuffed the suggestion: "I've relied on the scientific experts," he said. "Renewable energy, not nuclear, is going to be the growth area in the future."

Warning of agricultural 'digital arms race' in EU

Europe is on the verge of allowing centralisation and concentration of farming data at an unprecedented scale, with the absence of any regulation, NGO Friends of the Earth have warned.

What will Brexit mean for climate action in EU and UK?

The UK is leaving the EU after playing a key role in climate action - just as COP26 comes to Glasgow. With so many policy negotiations ahead, a split between London and Brussels post-Brexit could undermine the 2050 emissions-neutrality goal.

Timmermans: EU climate law will 'discipline' rogue states

The first EU-wide climate law will be a "disciplining" exercise to implement the Green Deal - although the Polish climate minister Michal Kurtyka warned the EU Commission about the social cost of delivering the green transition.

Why is Netherlands so far behind on renewables?

Despite its historic connotation with windmills and dams, the Netherlands is in fact far behind most EU countries in the production of energy from renewable sources - alongside stragglers such as Malta, Luxembourg and Belgium.

Timmermans urges EU governments to tax carbon

The EU commissioner for the Green Deal, Frans Timmermans, said on Thursday that member states have a responsibility to implement taxes on carbon to show that emissions have a cost.

News in Brief

  1. Bulgarian PM investigated over 'money laundering'
  2. Greenpeace breaks into French nuclear plant
  3. Germany increases police presence after shootings
  4. NGO: US and EU 'watering-down' tax reform prior to G20
  5. Iran: parliamentary elections, conservatives likely to win
  6. Belgian CEOs raise alarm on political crisis
  7. Germans voice anger on rise of far-right terrorism
  8. EU leaders' budget summit drags on overnight

What will Brexit mean for climate action in EU and UK?

The UK is leaving the EU after playing a key role in climate action - just as COP26 comes to Glasgow. With so many policy negotiations ahead, a split between London and Brussels post-Brexit could undermine the 2050 emissions-neutrality goal.

Timmermans: EU climate law will 'discipline' rogue states

The first EU-wide climate law will be a "disciplining" exercise to implement the Green Deal - although the Polish climate minister Michal Kurtyka warned the EU Commission about the social cost of delivering the green transition.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersScottish parliament seeks closer collaboration with the Nordic Council
  2. UNESDAFrom Linear to Circular – check out UNESDA's new blog
  3. Nordic Council of Ministers40 years of experience have proven its point: Sustainable financing actually works
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Baltic ministers paving the way for 5G in the region
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Climate Action Weeks in December

Latest News

  1. No breakthrough at EU budget summit
  2. EU leaders struggling to break budget deadlock
  3. German ex-commissioner Oettinger lands Orban job
  4. How big is Germany's far-right problem?
  5. Plastic and carbon proposals to help plug Brexit budget gap
  6. Sassoli repeats EU budget rejection warning
  7. Why Miroslav Lajčák is the wrong choice for EU envoy
  8. Unhappy EU leaders begin budget haggle

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us