Europe seen as 'architect' of international nuclear safety

The European institutions are calling for the highest possible standards of nuclear safety across the EU, writes Dominique Ristori.

By Dominique Ristori

03 Apr 2014

The EU is the largest nuclear electricity generator in the world. Nuclear energy is an important low-carbon source in half of the EU member states, generating almost one third of the electricity in the EU. Continued use of nuclear energy contributes to EU energy security and to limiting CO2 emissions.

At the same time, nuclear safety is an absolute priority for the EU and Europe is seen as the real architect for nuclear safety at international level. Both the European council and the parliament have called for the implementation and continuous improvement of the highest standards for nuclear safety in the EU.

The adoption of the first nuclear safety directive in 2009 was the first concrete milestone in this respect and created a binding legal framework, which brought legal certainty to EU citizens and reinforced the role and independence of national regulators. The general objective of the commission is to maintain and continuously improve nuclear safety and the legislative framework. It aims to ensure that appropriate national nuclear safety arrangements are developed and implemented to protect workers and the general public against the dangers arising from ionising radiation from nuclear installations.

The Fukushima nuclear accident underlined the importance of having in place the measures needed to minimise risk and guarantee the most robust levels of safety. Consequently, in the aftermath of the accident, the EU decided that the safety of all EU nuclear power plants should be reviewed on the basis of a comprehensive and transparent risk and safety assessment (stress tests).

"The EU will continue to keep the promotion of nuclear safety at the top of the global agenda"

The findings of these stress tests and recommendations for improving safety of nuclear power plants have been summarised in a report in the form of a communication to the council and the European parliament in October 2012. It is now crucial to ensure that the lessons learned from the Fukushima accident and the conclusions on the stress tests are properly and consistently implemented in the EU and reflected in the legislative framework.

The European council also mandated the commission to review the existing legal and regulatory framework for the safety of nuclear installations and to propose any improvements that may be necessary. For its part, the parliament has repeatedly called for a regulatory review and underlined that the EU should promote the most stringent safety principles to improve nuclear safety standards in the EU.

In October last year, after having consulted the European economic and social committee, the commission proposed a revised nuclear safety directive, which set out safety objectives to significantly reduce the risks and protect people and the environment. By introducing a system of regular European peer reviews, increasing transparency on nuclear safety matters and strengthening the powers of national regulators, the directive aims at continuous improvement of nuclear safety across the EU.

In addition to lessons learned from the stress tests, the proposal is based on various sources of expertise, notably the European nuclear safety regulators group, the group of scientific experts established under the Euratom treaty, the international atomic energy agency, the western European nuclear regulators association, and reports from non-EU countries, such as Japan or the US. It also takes into account the views expressed by stakeholders, including national regulators, industry and civil society.

I hope that the council will adopt the directive in the course of 2014, taking due account of the opinion of the European parliament. It is then the member states, regulators and national operators who will have to guarantee that the highest safety standards are followed in every single nuclear power plant. The EU will continue to keep the promotion of nuclear safety at the top of the global agenda. This is a sine qua non condition for nuclear to remain a significant part of the EU energy mix.

Read the most recent articles written by Dominique Ristori - Sustainable Energy Week: The path to a carbon neutral Europe

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