Nuclear Stress Tests ‘First Step’ on Safety, Ministers Say

Safety checks on European nuclear installations are a “first step” in preventing an atomic accident on the scale of what happened in Japan, according to government officials.

The so-called stress tests which will be performed on Europe’s 143 working reactors and other atomic installations “are very important but not enough to tackle the issues of nuclear safety,” Tamas Fellegi, Hungary’s Minister of National Development, told a press conference in Paris today. A “global approach” is needed to improve security, he said.

Fellegi spoke after government ministers and officials from more than 30 countries met in the French capital to discuss atomic energy safety following the reactor meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear plant that released radioactivity into the environment after a deadly earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

European Union countries have agreed to carry out so-called stress tests on reactors following the disaster while Japan announced today it plans a “fundamental revision” of its nuclear safety regulations and will make its atomic regulator independent of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, which promotes the use of nuclear technology.

“We are ready to work with the international community to achieve the highest possible level of nuclear safety,” Hideichi Okada, vice minister for international affairs at Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, said in Paris. He said Japan has been “trying to be as transparent as possible” about the accident.

‘No Debate’

“There was no debate” about decisions to continue backing nuclear power, as in France, or phase it out as in the case of Germany, said French Environment Minister Nathalie Kosciusko- Morizet.

“The accident at Fukushima in Japan has affected us all,” she said. “It quickly became apparent there is a need to learn lessons from the accident and to improve and raise our standards and ways of cooperating on nuclear safety.”

Ministers and officials today called for more international peer reviews of nuclear safety reports by regulators in individual countries. “We think peer reviews are very helpful. They give a view that everything is done in a very professional way,” said Swiss Energy Minister Doris Leuthard. “The Swiss government would love that peer reviews are not only voluntary but mandatory.”

Group of Eight leaders last month meeting in Deauville, France agreed to consider tougher standards for building and operating nuclear power plants in areas that may be prone to events like earthquakes.

“We have to reinforce nuclear safety,” Luis Echavarri, director general of the OECD’s Nuclear Energy Agency, said at the press conference. “The release of radioactivity from the nuclear accident at Fukushima was very important and contaminated many areas and has shown the weaknesses of nuclear power plants in some situations.”

He called on countries to “harmonize” safety checks on installations globally.

To contact the reporters on this story: Tara Patel in Paris at Tpatel2@bloomberg.net;

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Will Kennedy at wkennedy3@bloomberg.net.

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