Europe Urges Swift Safety Improvements at Nuclear Power Plants

The European Union’s regulatory arm called on governments to swiftly enact safety improvements identified during checks of the bloc’s nuclear reactors that may cost utilities as much as 25 billion euros ($32.5 billion).

“Member states and we should, together with the operators, immediately ensure that contracts are awarded for the necessary retrofitting in order to address the technical shortcomings to ensure we can have safety standards at the highest possible level,” EU Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger told reporters today in Brussels.

The costs of safety improvements may range from 30 million euros to 200 million euros per reactor unit, the commission estimated in a report following checks of atomic power plants in the EU’s 27 member states. The stress tests, conducted in response to Japan’s nuclear accident last year caused by an earthquake and tsunami, covered threats from natural disasters as well as plane crashes and explosions close to atomic plants.

“Altogether, the safety situation in Europe is at a good, satisfactory level,” Oettinger said. “There’s no nuclear power plant that must be shut down immediately due to safety reasons. However, nearly everywhere there’s a major potential for improvement.”

Today’s report showed that 54 out of 145 checked reactors didn’t apply current standards for calculating earthquake risk and 62 reactors were below standards related to estimating flooding risk. On-site seismic instruments to measure and alert for possible earthquakes should be installed or improved in 121 reactors, it said.

Severe Accidents

Other “lessons from Fukushima” relate to storing equipment to fight severe accidents, backup emergency control rooms and installing containment filtered venting systems, the commission said today.

Oettinger also said he was “convinced” that the EU should impose regulation on nuclear insurance and liability, introducing potential obligations that could make utilities “recalculate” prices.

Environmental lobby Greenpeace, which has called on the EU to phase out nuclear power in favor of renewable energy and efficiency measures, said the tests revealed “hundreds of problems” while dodging the threat from terrorism or off-site emergency plans.

“EU governments must act fast by shutting down the oldest and most risky plants and by ordering more thorough testing on the remaining plants,” Greenpeace spokesperson Mark Breddy said in an e-mailed statement.

Stress Tests

Eurelectric, the Brussels-based power industry association, said the commission’s assessment of nuclear facilities does not adequately reflect the results of the stress tests. Today’s report “risks stoking disproportionate and unbalanced concerns that could severely damage the prospects of a carbon-neutral electricity sector by 2050,” the group said.

The commission recommendations will be communicated to EU leaders at a summit on Oct. 18-19 in Brussels. The bloc’s regulatory arm will report on the implementation of the recommended measures in June 2014, it said.

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