Nuclear safety must be ‘top priority’ for the EU

But any new nuclear safety provisions should be proportionate and not increase the burden on regulators and license holders, explains Evžen Tošenovský.

By Evžen Tošenovský MEP

03 Apr 2014

Nuclear safety must remain a top priority for the European Union as nuclear is an important low carbon energy source for a significant number of EU member states, including my own, the Czech Republic. Ultimately, we should take account not only of the lessons learned from the Fukushima accident itself, but also of stress tests of the nuclear installations in the union carried out as an immediate reaction to it.

Therefore, in general, I acknowledge the commission’s ambition to ensure that all reasonably practicable steps are taken to reduce risks in the future. Parliament’s industry, research and energy (ITRE) committee rapporteur Romana Jordan made big efforts indeed to further improve the legislative proposal presented by the commission, and I am very grateful for this.

"I am strongly convinced that the recast of the nuclear safety directive should primarily lead to proportionate measures to improve the nuclear safety"

Having said that, the crucial point where we have different views compared to the rapporteur are the topical peer reviews, which represent a critical issue for our ECR group. I am strongly convinced that the recast of the nuclear safety directive should primarily lead to proportionate measures to improve nuclear safety.

Balanced competencies between the member states and the commission are to be maintained with the independence and in-depth knowledge of the national nuclear safety regulators respected. Ideally, in order not to create any disproportionate burden for regulators and licence holders, we should not aim at establishing a new system of topical peer reviews in addition to the well-established peer review processes at international level. We should rather make better use of existing tools, such as the missions undertaken by the international atomic energy agency.

As a minimum, we could accept the EU topical peer reviews if it doesn’t increase the powers of the European commission. We are, in particular, concerned about the verification missions to be carried out by member states not directly concerned, and which have been invited by the commission. The involvement of the commission is contradicting the provisions on the independence of national regulators. To conclude on this issue, it should remain primarily a member state responsibility to assure nuclear safety at national level.

As regards the need for increased transparency, it should have clearly defined restraints and it should only be applied if there is an added value for nuclear safety as such. In this respect, I am glad that the ITRE committee accepted our proposal to limit consultation of the public to the environmental impact assessment, instead of consulting every single step in the process of licencing of nuclear installations, as originally proposed by the commission.

Last but not least, on behalf of ECR group I have strongly opposed any changes of the legal basis towards the treaty on the functioning of the EU, or any future revision of the Euratom treaty. The Euratom treaty provides for a stable framework under which appropriate legislative instruments for nuclear safety are put forward. I must stress that for historical and other reasons; nuclear energy must be treated uniquely compared to other energy sources. Our approach has luckily been followed by the majority of ITRE members and endorsed at a later stage also by parliament’s legal affairs committee.