Nuclear plants to be tested every 6 years

2013-06-13 22:06

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Brussels - Nuclear power plants in the European Union should be tested every six years for safety shortfalls, the bloc's executive proposed Thursday, in a bid to draw lessons from the Fukushima nuclear meltdown in Japan in 2011.

"The fact remains that there are 132 nuclear reactors in operation in Europe today," EU Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger noted. "Our task ... is to make sure that safety is given the utmost priority in every single one of them."

But his proposals failed to win over Green parliamentary leader Rebecca Harms, who called them "seriously underwhelming." Green politicians traditionally oppose nuclear power.

"The proposals have been tailored to the demands of the nuclear industry and should be seen as little more than a further attempt to legitimise nuclear power," said Harms, an EU lawmaker from Germany.

The measures were welcomed, however, by conservative politicians in the European Parliament, with Slovenian lawmaker Romana Jordan calling it "an important step towards achieving the highest nuclear safety standards."

The commission does not want the mandatory, every-six-year tests to cover the entire reactor, but only a specific safety aspect that would be agreed between member states - for instance protection against floods or precautions for a possible plane crash.

There will be a multinational peer review process in place as part of a bid to bring "nuclear safety into the European domain," Oettinger said.

But the environmental group Greenpeace predicted that the new rules do not go far enough "to rule out a European Fukushima," arguing that the testing foreseen would "leave some parts of a plant untouched for decades."

A round of voluntary tests carried out on European nuclear power plants after the Fukushima scare revealed that almost all were in need of safety improvements.

Spent nuclear fuel

EU member states will now have to approve the commission's proposal - which also includes extra tests for plants whose lifetime is being extended, requires an emergency response centre at every plant, and seeks higher design standards - for it to become law.

Fourteen EU countries produce nuclear power, with France most dependent on atomic energy. Lithuania and Poland are in line to also join the club, with plans in place for their first reactors.

In Germany, where the government plans to shut down all nuclear reactors by 2022 and replace them with more environmentally friendly power sources, regional leaders sparred over where to park 26 containers of spent nuclear fuel.

The country is leaving itself until 2031 to decide where it will bury spent fuel that has accumulated since 1960.

Politicians have been clashing over the "fair" allotment of 26 containers, each as big as a van, containing German waste that has been fused with glass at reprocessing plants in Sellafield, Britain and La Hague, France.

The opposition Social Democrats demanded that Chancellor Angela Merkel pressure Hesse and Bavaria, ruled by her own Christian Democrats and their allies, to provide space at existing storage sites for a few of the 26 containers when they arrive.

SPD leader Sigmar Gabriel said it was unfair to send the waste only to two states - Schleswig-Holstein and Baden-Wuerttemberg - which are ruled by Merkel's opponents. State premiers agreed Thursday to postpone a decision on the allotment until next year.

Merkel has been seeking to settle the broad lines of a waste policy before the general election on 22 September.

Read more on:    eu  |  angela merkel  |  germany  |  nuclear

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