Europe raises bar with improved nuclear safety framework

Amendments to the nuclear safety directive limit the risk of radioactive releases, writes Massimo Garribba.

By Massimo Garribba

24 Oct 2014

In July this year, the council of the European Union voted through an amendment to the nuclear safety directive - a significant step to strengthen the existing nuclear legal framework. The amendment introduces an EU-wide nuclear safety objective. The directive will bolster the safety of nuclear installations throughout their lifecycle: siting, design, construction, commissioning, operation and decommissioning. It is designed to prevent accidents and limit the risk of potential radioactive releases.

"The directive will bolster the safety of nuclear installations throughout their lifecycle: siting, design, construction, commissioning, operation and decommissioning"

The amendment also requires a regular reassessment of nuclear installations to identify further safety improvements. Moreover, improved on-site procedures are set out to help prepare for and respond to emergencies more effectively.

The revised framework establishes a peer review system of nuclear installations to share best practices and to ensure high nuclear safety standards are applied throughout the EU. Peer review findings will be translated into concrete technical recommendations and follow-up measures. The first peer reviews will be carried out in 2017 and every six years thereafter. Under the improved framework, national regulatory authorities enjoy more powers and greater independence in supervising the activities of nuclear operators. Transparency is increased by ensuring that information is made available to the public both in normal operating conditions of nuclear installations and in case of accidents. And finally, the directive promotes an effective nuclear safety culture, in particular through management systems, education and training arrangements.

The commission is currently analysing member state reports on their implementation of the original 2009 directive. They will report on the progress made next year. Member states have three years to transpose the new provisions into national law. To facilitate this, the commission will cooperate closely with member state authorities, to identify issues and discuss solutions at an early stage. Such cooperation will allow best practice to be shared between member states. Following the transposition deadline, the commission will be working to ensure that new provisions are correctly transposed into national law and properly implemented and enforced by national authorities.

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