EU "failing on CEE nuclear safety," say NGOs

Coalition calls for CEE reactor closure, upgrades, to be made a condition for EU accession

Central and eastern European countries (CEEs) should not be allowed to join the EU unless they achieve higher nuclear safety standards, a coalition of environmental groups said today in Brussels. Coordinated by London-based organisation EU Enlargement Watch, the groups described the accession process as a "last chance" to reduce serious nuclear accident risks in CEE countries and accused the EU of doing too little to capitalise on it.

Formal accession talks between the EU and a first wave of five CEE countries applying to join are due to start shortly. Unlike most EU environmental and other laws, which comprise the so-called acquis communautaire that CEE applicant countries are expected to comply with before joining, there are no uniform EU standards on nuclear safety.

The European Commission said in May that its strategy was to achieve safety standards in CEE countries "comparable" with those in the EU. The EU Council of Ministers reinforced this message in September (ENDS Daily 28 September).

However, these words are not, so far, leading to actions, the NGO coalition claimed today in a report. CEE governments have ignored previous promises to shut down the most risky nuclear reactors, they say, and the EU has not been "focused or determined" enough in demanding closures.

The European Commission has given over Ecu700m to nuclear safety programmes in the CEE region since 1989, they acknowledge. But the groups claim that EU funding allocated for decommissioning nuclear plants is instead being used to refurbish them, thus extending their lives.

EU Enlargement Watch and its partners want the EU to oblige CEE countries to set "immediate" closure dates for their older, first-generation reactors, which pose the greatest safety risks. Pre-accession aid should be made conditional on quick closure, they say. They claim the current EU accession text, which stipulates that high-risk plants should be shut down, is not proving effective.

The groups are also worried by safety standards at newer, second-generation reactors, which form the bulk of CEE nuclear capacity. The EU's current demand that they be brought up to "international" or "western" security standards, is too vague, claim the NGOs, given that the EU itself has no set of uniform safety standards.

Follow Up:
EU Enlargement Watch, tel: +44 171 923 0412. References: "Real Ways to Reduce Nuclear Risk in Eastern Europe."

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