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After a failed attempt, in September 2004(1), to instigate a Community framework for nuclear safety, the European Commission adopted, on 26 November, a new proposal for a revised directive, based on the obligations defined in the 1996 Convention on Nuclear Safety signed under the auspices of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and its Safety Fundamentals.

This initiative comes after a series of incidents - or accidents - of varying gravity at nuclear power plants across the EU, notably in France, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden, as well as in Belgium. In presenting a new revised proposal, the Commission notes that the cross-border risks from the operation of nuclear installations have only led to limited standardisation of safety requirements between member states. With "renewed" interest in the use of nuclear energy, the Commission sees convergence of rules at EU level as ever more necessary.

The aim of the proposed directive, under the Euratom Treaty with only a consultative role for the European Parliament, is to lead to the establishment of Europe-wide binding safety legislation for the operation of nuclear power plants. The Commission notes that it would define basic obligations and general principles for the safety of nuclear installations in the EU at the same time as enhancing the role of national regulatory bodies.

The Commission is quick to add that the new directive is "firmly" anchored in the subsidiarity principle by enhancing the role of the national nuclear safety control bodies, their independence as well as the resources at their disposal. The proposed directive has a scope of application, as to issues of nuclear safety, ranging from the design, siting, construction, maintenance, operation and decommissioning of nuclear installations.

The proposal also promotes the Commission's High Level Group on Nuclear Safety and Waste Management (ENSREG) as a focal point for cooperation between regulators. The group, composed of 27 national senior officials from national regulatory or nuclear safety authorities, and their deputies as well as a Commission representative, first met in October 2007. The creation of the group was endorsed by the March 2007 European Council. The group aims to help the Commission develop European rules on the safety of nuclear installations and safe management of spent fuel and radioactive waste.


Quick to criticise the proposals was Greenpeace's dirty energy' campaigner Jan Haverkamp. He detected the same air of "expertocracy" in the Commission's new proposal as in the Euratom Treaty, with too much reliance on a small circle of experts rather than democratic control. Haverkamp argued that the Commission's proposal only legalises the IAEA's Convention on Nuclear Safety (which itself sets voluntary standards). "The standards are insufficient," said Haverkamp. He points out that the second and third European Nuclear Energy Forum adopted conclusions calling for use of the best available technology and best regulatory practice. He also fears a loophole arising from the definition of radioactive waste that allows radioactive waste to be declared a "resource". "This gives decision makers the possibility of continuing not to deal with proper disposal of existing and future waste," said Haverkamp. Additionally, national regulatory authorities would remain weak.

The Commission's proposal is not fundamentally new, according to Sami Tulonen, institutional affairs director at the European Atomic Forum FORATOM. He also detects several vague elements, notably on the role of the Commission. "This perhaps opens the way for the Commission to get more involved in the future," said Tulonen, who warns that politics must not dilute the independence of national regulators. He is more optimistic about this proposal than about its 2004 predecessor, thanks to more extensive consultation. "But knowing what happened four years ago, it is not likely that consensus in the Council will come soon," he added.

The proposal is available at > Search > 238625a

(1) The Commission submitted, in September 2004, a proposal for a Council directive (Euratom) setting out basic obligations and general principles on the safety of nuclear installations (COM(2004)526)
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Publication:Europe Environment
Date:Dec 11, 2008

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