EU facing nuclear "time bomb," says auditor

Deficiencies in central, eastern, European reactor safety not being tackled, report concludes

The head of the EU's auditing body said today that the EU was "sitting on a time bomb" as a result of failure to ensure safety at central and eastern European nuclear reactors. Despite earmarking Ecu850m for the task over the last seven years, the EU had failed to manage the spending properly, said Bernhard Freidmann, president of the European Court of Auditors.

Addressing the European Parliament in Strasbourg, Mr Freidmann appealed to the main EU institutions "urgently to get to grips with this extremely difficult area".

His comments followed the adoption by the court of a special report into the EU's efforts to tackle the problem. This concluded that "the programmes' short-term objectives had not been achieved by the end of 1997". The report found that only Ecu355m out of the Ecu850m had been spent and concluded that the Commission's strategy for dealing with decommissioning, dismantling and waste processing was "confused".

The report accuses the Commission section dealing with the programmes (mostly under the "Phare" and Tacis" schemes) of "lax management" and of being unable to monitor contractors employed with EU money. One-third of those contracts were handed out without public tender procedures, the report says. By "over -delegating" its responsibilities, the Commission "has undermined its authority and its independence," it concludes.

The court also published today its annual report on the EU balance sheet for 1997, which, looked closely at two environmental policy areas. In both areas - water pollution and renewable energy - it found serious shortcomings.

Failure from member states to properly implement directives on urban waste water and nitrate pollution from agricultural sources meant that the policies were not having their desired effect, the court concluded. The problem of implementation, says the report, is exacerbated by "inconsistent terminology and the lack of specialist and standardised data and appropriate indicators".

The report also underlines a need for water charges to give an incentive for people to avoid polluting water. In its reply, contained within today's report, the Commission points out that this is part of its proposal for a water framework directive, currently mired in disagreements between the Council and the Parliament.

The audit body is critical of the European Commission's programmes for researching renewable sources of energy - Joule-Thermie and Altener. It says that the Commission fails to evaluate the value for money it gets from projects it funds, and recommends that external organisations being paid out of the funds be made to have their cost claims checked by external auditors.

Follow Up:
European Court of Auditors, tel: +352 4398 45314. (Details of the report are posted on the court's web site).

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