Monday

26th Jun 2017

EU nuclear reactors fall short on safety

  • Nuclear power plants throughout the EU do not meet international safety standards to varying degrees. (Photo: wikipedia)

Nuclear power plants across most of the EU require immediate upgrades to ensure their safety in face of cataclysmic events, said the European Commission on Thursday (4 October).

EU energy commissioner Gunther Oettinger told reporters in Brussels that safety standards on the whole were satisfactory, but noted "that nearly everywhere there is a major potential for improvement."

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

"We certainly have not come to the end of the road yet," he added.

The comments come after media last week obtained a leaked draft an EU paper on nuclear stress tests which outlines, country by country, the safety standards at the 145 reactors in the EU.

The study was an 18-month, three-stage endeavour which looked at nuclear power plants in 15 member states plus Ukraine and Switzerland.

Nuclear operators carried out the initial self-assessment and their reports were then scrutinised by national regulators.

The final reporting stage involved a peer-review assessment by experts from both nuclear and non-nuclear states organised by the European Nuclear Safety Regulators Group (Ensreg), a group of senior officials from the national nuclear regulatory authorities from all 27 member states.

The commission and peer review teams also conducted on site inspections on 54 of the reactors.

“The conclusions are based exclusively on the technical experts by Ensreg and ourselves. There was absolutely no political influence,” said Oettinger.

The report found the risk calculation in the event of an earthquake falls short among 54 reactors while 62 fail in the event of flooding.

Safety equipment is improperly stored among 81 reactors and 24 have no backup emergency control room should the main control room become contaminated or inaccessible.

On-site seismic instruments are required or need upgrading at 121 reactors.

Thirty-four reactors, located respectively in Belgium, the Czech Republic, Ukraine, Spain, Hungary, Slovakia, and the United Kingdom have no containment filtered venting systems in case of accident.

Ensreg described implementing the integrity of containment units as "urgent." Water-cooled reactors, noted the group, require specialised equipment to prevent hydrogen explosions and containment overpressure.

"The Fukushima disaster highlighted once again the importance of the containment function, which is critical, as the last barrier to protect the people and the environment against radioactive releases resulting from a nuclear accident," said Ensreg in a report released in July.

Costs estimates to retrofit the reactors and bring them up to the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA's) safety standards range from €10 billion to €25 billion, said the commission.

Oettinger pointed out that some of the recommendations to retro-fit power plants had been made decades ago, following the Chernobyl and Three-mile island nuclear catastrophes, but never implemented.

"Measures should be taken that were possible decades ago," he noted.

The commission now wants member states to draw up national actions plans with timetables to implement the recommendations before the end of the year.

Greenpeace said the EU stress tests fail to consider terrorists attacks, the age of the plants, and emergency plans offsite that included evacuating nearby populations.

"They ignored the ageing of plants which is actually a major factor in how reliable nuclear plants are," said Jack Hunter, a spokesperson at Greenpeace office in Brussels.

He noted that Belgium recently shut down two 40-year old reactors because of recently discovered cracks in their reactor vessels. The cracks were found months after the nuclear stress tests had been performed.

"This was missed entirely [by the nuclear stress tests], basically because they were looking at it on paper. It’s a known issue that radiation accelerates fatigue of things," said Hunter.

For its part, the commission said the risk of terrorist attacks was not assessed because it falls outside its mandate.

The task was instead undertaken by an Ad Hoc Group on Nuclear Security (AHGNS) set up in July 2011 by the Council to deal with the security of nuclear power plants.

AHGNS concluded its evaluation with a report issued in June that outlined a list of "32 good practices."

The Brussels-executive along with Ensreg will also launch an initial study to assess member state off-site safety plans.

Meanwhile, Oettinger said he wants to explore setting up a draft legislation on nuclear insurance and liability in case of disaster.

The commission wants to conduct a market analysis with insurance companies and will make a proposal next year. The additional costs, noted Oettinger, would be passed onto the consumer.

The commission will also review the EU nuclear safety directive in February.

Border management going virtual

EU leaders at a summit in Brussels are set to endorse new border control measures, while the head of a Tallinn-based EU agency predicts a future where border management goes virtual.

Interview

EU visa waiver unlikely to import Ukraine crime

Visa-free travel, which began last week, unlikely to prompt a Ukrainian crime wave, an EU police expert has said, but Ukraine itself is seeing increases in lawlessness.

Opinion

Why Schengen deserves to be saved

Far-right parties around Europe have managed to turn the passport-free Schengen area into a game of political hot potato despite its numerous benefits.

News in Brief

  1. British PM closes government deal with Northern Irish party
  2. Merkel on collision course with US at G20 summit
  3. Schulz outlines German election strategy, hits out at Merkel
  4. Berlusconi's party sees comeback in Italian local votes
  5. Low turnout in Albanian election set to mandate EU future
  6. Merkel and Macron hold symbolic joint press conference
  7. Juncker has 'no' clear idea of kind of Brexit UK wants
  8. Belgian PM calls May's proposal on EU citizens 'vague'

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Malta EU 2017Conservation of Atlantic Tunas: International Measures Become EU Law
  2. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceCan Statin Therapy Interfere With a Physically Active Lifestyle?
  3. EPSUOn Public Services Day, Stop Austerity! Workers Need a Pay Rise!
  4. EGBAOnline Gambling: The EU Court Rejects Closed Licensing Regimes In Member States
  5. World VisionFaces of Today, Leaders of Tomorrow: Join the Debate on Violence Against Girls - 29 June
  6. ECR GroupThe EU Must Better Protect Industry from Unfair Competition
  7. Malta EU 2017Better Protection for Workers From Cancer-Causing Substances
  8. EPSUAfter 9 Years of Austerity Europe's Public Sector Workers Deserve a Pay Rise!
  9. Dialogue PlatformGlobalised Religions and the Dialogue Imperative. Join the Debate!
  10. UNICEFEU Trust Fund Contribution to UNICEF's Syria Crisis Response Reaches Nearly €200 Million
  11. EUSEW17Bringing Buildings Into the Circular Economy. Discuss at EU Sustainable Energy Week
  12. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceCan an Ideal Body Weight Lead to Premature Death?

Latest News

  1. China's slow foray into Central and Eastern Europe
  2. Estonia presidency and Google fine This WEEK
  3. UK previews offer on EU nationals' rights
  4. EU approves rescue of Italian banks
  5. Cohesion policy for a stronger Europe
  6. Cheap meat is a bigger problem for climate and health
  7. Ministers to reject minimum parking spaces for electric cars
  8. Macron’s investment screening idea watered down by leaders

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Malta EU 2017End of Roaming Charges: What Does It Entail?
  2. World VisionWorld Refugee Day, a Dark Reminder of the Reality of Children on the Move
  3. Dialogue PlatformMuslims Have Unique Responsibility to Fight Terror: Opinon From Fethullah Gülen
  4. EUSEW17Check out This Useful Infographic on How to Stay Sustainable and Energy Efficient.
  5. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament Criticises the Juncker Plan's Implementation
  6. UNICEF1 in 5 Children in Rich Countries Lives in Relative Income Poverty, 1 in 8 Faces Food Insecurity
  7. International Partnership for Human Rights26 NGOs Call on Interpol Not to Intervene Versus Azerbaijani Human Rights Defenders
  8. Malta EU 2017Significant Boost in Financing for SMEs and Entrepreneurs Under New Agreement
  9. World VisionYoung People Rise up as EU Signs Consensus for Development at EU Development Days
  10. ILGA-EuropeLGBTI Activists and Businesses Fighting Inequality Together
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Prime Ministers Respond to Trump on Paris Agreement