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Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

(November 28, 2003) The European Union has again failed to agree draft nuclear legislation, after four states - all with a sizeable atomic industry - said they could not accept proposals tabled by the European Commission last year.

(599.5560) FOE Europe - At an EU ambassadors meeting on Wednesday 27 November, Finland, Germany, Sweden and the UK said new laws on plant safety and radioactive waste would be vetoed. Between them the four states hold enough votes to do so, and have instead called for the proposals to be recast as non-binding recommendations.

The Italian government, which currently holds the EU presidency, had pushed over recent months to close the negotiations, but will now hand over the issues to the Irish, which takes over the presidency in January.

The measures are in fact two separate directives (meaning framework laws that must be enacted in every EU state) but are generally referred to together as 'the nuclear package'. There is, apart from the timing, no formal link. The Commission proposed the two directives under powers contained in the 1957 Euratom treaty, arguing that a better safety regime was needed ahead of EU enlargement next year.

However, Euratom's definition of safety has been widely interpreted by the Commission, and the question of to what extent the EU (as opposed to individual states) has powers over safety is heavily contested. In simple terms, most of the nuclear states do not want to transfer any power to the European level.

This inter-section of competing interests has produced gridlock, and it is difficult to see how the Irish will proceed. Normally, the EU presidency takes a neutral position in debates but, in this case, Ireland is amongst the strong advocates of the proposals. It is rumoured to be planning to raise the issue at the highest political level in the spring.

Anti-nuclear groups have found it tricky to engage with 'the package' because, of the two proposals, one (more safety controls) could be supported (at least in principle), whilst the other (disposal) is strongly opposed.

However, the latest drafts of the laws have become so watered down as to have no useful effect. This risks having laws in name only, so the EU can pretend something is being done, when in fact nothing is.

One important issue in the original package, the proper establishment and control over decommissioning funds, was the first aspect to be deleted. Nuclear states could face having to confront the huge financial liabilities their respective nuclear sectors have run up.

But without such laws, there can be no prospect of having a single EU energy market "free from distortion", which is a cornerstone of wider economic policy and of the EU treaties generally.

In a related move, the European Parliament's Industry Committee voted to back the Commissions plans but, under Euratom rules, only acts in a consultative and not a legislative capacity.

[On 14 November, WISE/NIRS published a special edition of the Nuclear Monitor on European issues: European Nuclear Threats: Old and New. The "nuclear package" is one of the contents. It can be downloaded from the WISE webpage at]

Source and contact: Mark Johnston at Friends of the Earth Europe
Tel: 4479 7331 9249