(October 4, 2002) While Friends of the Earth Europe held a conference in Brussels on 12 September on the future of Euratom, the pro-nuclear European Commissioner Loyola de Palacio held a press briefing for selected journalists on the forthcoming launch of new legislation known as the "nuclear package".
(574.5442) WISE Amsterdam - Within the European Union, Euratom is an oddity - a virtually unreformed treaty which dates back to the 1950's when nuclear power was promoted as the world's future energy source. It was intended to "contribute to the raising of the standard of living" by "creating the conditions necessary for the speedy establishment and growth of nuclear industries", as Article 1 of the Euratom Treaty puts it.
Its origins can be traced to U.S. President Eisenhower's "Atoms for Peace" speech of December 1953. The U.S. wanted to secure a market for U.S. reactors and U.S. enriched uranium while preventing proliferation of nuclear weapons. By giving regional organizations such as Euratom better deals than individual countries, the U.S. hoped to cultivate a "United States of Europe" which could stand up to the Warsaw Pact.
Democracy, however, was not and is not a feature of the Euratom Treaty. When the treaty was signed in 1957, "control by democratically elected Parliaments was not exactly a significant feature of the nuclear sector", as one European Parliament working paper put it.
When the other treaties that form the basis of the European Union were reformed to give more power to the elected European Parliament and less to the unelected European Commission, and prevent one-sided subsidies of particular industries, Euratom was left largely unchanged.
The nuclear lobby clearly wants it to remain so, since they like the one-sided subsidies that their industry receives and don't seem to mind the lack of democracy in Euratom.
Also, the Euratom treaty is of unlimited duration, unlike the other European treaty governing specific industries (the European Coal and Steel Community) which expires this year.
In short, the Euratom treaty is an outdated treaty for an outdated industry. By saying that is OK as it stands, the nuclear lobby implicitly admits their loss of influence, since they have more or less given up all hope that Euratom can be reformed to their benefit.
While speakers at the conference generally agreed that it would be difficult to reform Euratom, it seems there may a small window of opportunity.
The Convention on the Future of Europe is examining the European structures in connection with the enlargement of the EU. Enlargement means that countries in Central and Eastern Europe, some of which operate dangerous Soviet-designed reactors, will become part of the EU. Yet the Euratom Treaty as it stands has no article governing nuclear safety - only an article governing protection against ionizing radiation. This by itself should be reason enough to reform Euratom.
However, rather than using the Convention on the Future of Europe as an opportunity for Euratom reform, it seems the European Commission are trying to give additional powers to Euratom without reforming it or addressing its "democratic deficit".
While staff from both NIRS and WISE attended the conference, European Commissioner Loyola de Palacio held a press briefing for selected journalists on the forthcoming launch of new legislation known as the "nuclear package" (see box).
The press briefing for selected journalists seems to be a "news management" trick: by taking this unusual step, the European Commission is hoping to reduce interest in the issue if the proposals are finally adopted by the Commission later this year.
Patricia Lorenz of Friends of the Earth Europe commented: "Before any new power can be given to the dinosaur Euratom there must be reform, at the very least the removal of its promotional function and the introduction of joint decision making with the European Parliament".
Ironically, the inadequacy of the unreformed Euratom Treaty as it stands could cause legal problems for some of the proposed new directives.
Articles 30 and 31 of the Euratom treaty govern maximum permissible radiation doses, contamination levels and the principles governing the health surveillance of workers. Using these to determine nuclear safety standards is a bit shaky, since nuclear safety includes far more than just radiation protection.
Worse still, using Articles 30 and 31 to determine "financial mechanisms for securing long term disposal of radioactive waste and the decommissioning of nuclear facilities" involves a very dubious legal argument. The European Commission says that if decommissioning funds are inadequate, the standard of decommissioning will be lower. Yet, even if there is plenty of money, nuclear contractors may still try to cut corners on safety or on health checks for workers, as has happened in the case of the "nuclear nomads" (see WISE News Communique 542.5239, " Inadequate health checks for French 'nuclear nomads' ").
The European Commission has said that they expect a final version of the "nuclear package" will be published beginning/mid November. This could be delayed, especially because of the legal problems mentioned above.
The other slight possibility for Euratom reform lies in stopping the extension of the Euratom loan ceiling. Although originally intended for building new nuclear power stations in EU member countries, Euratom loans are now usually proposed for Eastern European projects. These include the notorious K2/R4 in Ukraine, which is still listed as a Euratom loan project even after Ukraine withdrew its loan application (see WISE News Communique 559.5345, "Ukraine withdraws EBRD loan application for K2/R4").
After the K2/R4 loan, most of the Euratom loan facility will be used up, so the European Commission is proposing a 2-billion-euro (US$1.95 billion) extension to this facility. This proposal needs to be approved by consensus of the finance ministers of all EU countries.
However, the only Euratom loan under active consideration is the loan for Cernavoda-2 in Romania (see WISE/NIRS Nuclear Monitor 571.5424, "Romania: new financiers, new problems for Cernavoda-2"). Ministers from Denmark and Ireland have stated that Euratom loans should not be used to expand the nuclear industry, as is the case with Cernavoda-2 where (unlike K2/R4) there is no requirement to close a nuclear reactor of similar size.
The victory of the Red-Green coalition in the recent German elections could be the final blow for Euratom loan extension.
By blocking the proposed Euratom loan extension, the finance ministers of EU member states would give a signal to the European Commission that Euratom is outdated and reform is needed.
- WISE Amsterdam
- reports from conference on Euratom, 12 September 2002
- The European Parliament and the Euratom Treaty: past, present and future, European Parliament working paper ENER 114, May 2002
- The Launch of the European Commission's Nuclear Package, Antony Froggatt, 17 September 2002
- Friends of the Earth Europe press release, 13 September 2002
Contact: WISE Amsterdam or Diane D'Arrigo at NIRS.