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Common safety standards for Europe?

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

(December 21, 2001) As of now, nuclear energy is still under the jurisdiction of nation states. However, the Austrian government proposed at the European Union summit in Laeken, Belgium, in the second week of December, to restart discussion on common EU standards of nuclear safety.

(560.5356) Friends of the Earth Europe - The death of the Austrian proposal, which arose from the dispute over Temelin, was not unexpected (see WISE News Communique 559.5350, "Temelin agreement: Austrian government coalition remains divided"). The conclusions included the following wording: "The European Council undertakes to maintain a high level of nuclear safety in the Union. It stresses the need to monitor the security and safety of nuclear power stations. It calls for regular reports from Member States' atomic energy experts, who will maintain close contact with the Commission." In practice this means nothing has to change since countries already submit a yearly report under the framework of the Nuclear Safety Convention of the IAEA.

The nuclear strongholds of France, UK and Sweden (supposedly the most ardent opponent of the initiative) are strongly against common standards, which could restrict their monopoly on decision-making on all nuclear-related matters. They could for instance open the door to unwelcome demands for information on nuclear policy.

The other key player is the nuclear industry and its "long arm" the Western European Nuclear Regulators Association (WENRA). This private club of regulators has already presented a study on methods of harmonizing safety practices within the EU.

It is anyway highly unlikely that common safety standards will lead to the closure of old reactors, or improve nuclear safety in the short run (the next 5 years). They could even turn out to have a boomerang effect, with EU countries agreeing on lowest common denominator standards that even the most rotten UK Magnox reactor can fulfill. Then nuclear "unsafety" will become EU-approved, and even more official. Consequently, it might become more difficult to increase safety levels at the national level, when faced with the argument, "why should we exceed EU-legislation?"

Other nuclear news from the EU summit: The next Intergovernmental Conference, in 2004, is important for Euratom reform, which some governments, the European Parliament and NGOs wish to initiate. At the moment the Laeken mandate appears so broad that a Euratom reform seems possible!

Source and contact: Friends of the Earth Europe, Patricia Lorenz, Antinuclear Coordinator, tel: +43 1 812 5730-20