EU Commission urged to act on nuclear safety

European Parliament, advisory body, say EU needs harmonised minimum safety standards

The European Commission should propose EU-wide safety standards for nuclear power plants, two EU bodies said this week. The calls were made by the European Parliament and the European consultative forum on environment and sustainable development (ECF).

In a resolution passed yesterday after debating the UK's Sellafield nuclear plant (ENDS Daily 17 May), the parliament demanded "high minimum standards" for design, construction and operation of nuclear installations and for safety management systems. The call follows safety scandals at Sellafield.

In a separate development, the ECF, which was formed in 1993 to advise the Commission, said common rules were now "essential" and that it was "strange" that the EU lacked them since accidents "can have a severe impact" on neighbouring countries. Many of the EU's 166 commercial reactors would come to the end of their design lives over the next decade, and there was an "obvious risk" that governments might be tempted to continue running them to help meet climate change commitments, it said.

EU nuclear safety is governed by the 1957 Euratom treaty, which gives member states jurisdiction and largely sidelines the EU institutions. Environment and nuclear safety commissioner Margot Wallström told the parliament during the Sellafield debate on Tuesday that member states would be unlikely to cede any sovereignty over nuclear plant operations in favour of common rules. She added that such rules would therefore inevitably be very general and would provide only a low base for EU accession countries to aim for.

However, the commissioner said there were "no obstacles" to future harmonisation of EU rules on nuclear waste management and decommissioning of old plants. EU guidelines for these the activities already exist but are non-binding.

* Meanwhile, in a separate position paper released this week, the ECF called on EU governments to pass a long-stalled proposal for EU-wide minimum taxes on energy products. The forum said there was a "lack of conformity between the ceremonial declarations... and the action taken" on the issue.

Follow Up:
European Parliament, tel: 284 2111; see also the nuclear safety resolution and transcript of the Sellafield debate; European Consultative Forum on the Environment and Sustainable Development, tel: +32 2 296 8004; and its position papers on nuclear safety and the energy tax.

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