Wednesday

10th Aug 2022

Time is ripe for EU-wide nuclear safety rules, Brussels says

Brussels has called on EU member states to end the six-year deadlock over one of Europe's touchiest topics and agree common nuclear safety rules as well as ways in which to store nuclear waste.

"It is an absolute necessity," EU energy commissioner Andris Piebalgs told EUobserver on Thursday (22 May), while blaming EU governments for a lack of political will to give Brussels a stronger say on the issue.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

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

... or subscribe as a group

  • Brussels says that nuclear energy has a role to play in meeting concerns about security of supply (Photo: Wikipedia)

Referring to the commission's previous attempts to legislate in the area, Mr Piebalgs said that some member states thought "the commission would gain too much power".

The EU's executive body tabled a nuclear package covering safety aspects twice - first, in 2002 and, subsequently, an updated version in 2004. But the package was killed off as soon as it reached the council, representing EU governments.

But according to Mr Piebalgs, progress on nuclear safety rules are inevitable also in order to speed up certification procedures for constructing new nuclear plants in Europe.

He cited Slovakia's application to build two reactors in Mochovce, describing the long-running case as "one of the casualties of not having common safety standards". Bratislava, at the forefront of a renewed push for nuclear energy, has been waiting for the commission's opinion since July 2007.

"Why does it take a year? Because we have to give an opinion based on the International Atomic Energy Agency requirements or on the best practices. If it is clear what is required, it will be easier to deliver an opinion," commissioner Piebalgs said.

The two sides are arguing over whether Mochovce should have full containment - additional walls of concrete and steel protecting the reactor. This is not something that is required under international standards, but is considered by some as the best way of protection.

"I would very much welcome if the member states move out of this stalemate ... and look favourably at this [common nuclear safety] issue," he concluded.

The current commission, under the leadership of Jose Manuel Barroso, has not shied away from supporting the nuclear path, a controversial option in many parts of Europe. It says that nuclear energy has a role to play in meeting the EU's growing concerns about security of supply and CO2 emission reductions.

Currently, 15 member states use nuclear energy for power generation. With some 150 nuclear reactors in operation, the 27-nation EU is the world leader when it comes to a number of commercial nuclear power stations. They cover one third of the union's electricity needs.

But many criticize what is being called a nuclear renaissance and refuse to grant nuclear energy the saviour role in the EU's fight against climate change.

"The same amount of money spent on energy efficiency and renewables could much more effectively result in lower greenhouse gas emissions," Andras Perger from the Hungary-based Energia Klub said on Friday (23 May).

At the same time, Mr Perger accused the nuclear lobby of trying to make a comeback through the EU's most recent member states. "The aim to finish outdated and mothballed Soviet-design reactors shows that the nuclear industry tries to survive at whatever cost," he said.

Slovakia, Lithuania and Bulgaria were all forced by the European Commission to shut down Soviet-era nuclear reactors as part of their accession to the EU. Currently, Lithuania as well as Romania, are eyeing construction of new power plants.

In addition, Italy has just announced it is to resume building nuclear reactors in the next five years, two decades after a referendum saw the Italian public vote against the energy source.

Opinion

Russia puts EU in nuclear-energy paradox

There's unprecedented international anxiety about the safety of Ukraine's nuclear reactors, but many European countries are also turning to nuclear power to secure energy supplies.

Almost two-thirds of Europe in danger of drought

Data released by the European Drought Observatory show 60 percent of Europe and the United Kingdom is currently in a state of drought, with farming, homes and industry being affected. Drought conditions have also led to an increase in wildfires.

EU hopeful of Iran nuclear deal

A possible deal to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear pact is within reach, says the European Union. Washington backs the final proposals, but Tehran remains cautious.

EU hopeful of Iran nuclear deal

A possible deal to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear pact is within reach, says the European Union. Washington backs the final proposals, but Tehran remains cautious.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBConstruction workers can check wages and working conditions in 36 countries
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Canadian ministers join forces to combat harmful content online
  3. European Centre for Press and Media FreedomEuropean Anti-SLAPP Conference 2022
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers write to EU about new food labelling
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersEmerging journalists from the Nordics and Canada report the facts of the climate crisis
  6. Council of the EUEU: new rules on corporate sustainability reporting

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us