EU proposes mandatory nuclear reviews every six years

LONDON/BRUSSELS Thu Jun 13, 2013 8:42am EDT

1 of 2. Steam billows from the cooling towers of a nuclear plant in Doel, near Antwerp June 5, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Yves Herman

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LONDON/BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Commission on Thursday published a draft nuclear safety law that includes mandatory EU-wide reviews every six years in response to lessons learnt from the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan.

In the aftermath of the Japanese nuclear tragedy, the European Union carried out a series of stress tests to examine the resilience of nuclear power stations and Thursday's proposals build on conclusions drawn from the tests.

In the proposals the Commission wants member states to carry out reviews on pre-agreed topics every six years and can send inspectors to specific countries if it feels reviews are delayed or not implemented properly.

"There are 132 nuclear reactors in operation in Europe today. Our task at the Commission is to make sure that safety is given the utmost priority in every single one of them," said Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger in a statement.

Following the stress tests, the Commission found that safety improvements costing anywhere between 10 billion and 25 billion euros were necessary in European nuclear plants.

The draft law proposed that new nuclear power plants need to be designed in a way that reactor damage will not have any consequences outside the plant to prevent radioactive leakage.

National regulators also have to draft a strategy on how to communicate with the public in case of an accident and citizens must be given the opportunity to take part in the decision-making process to grant licenses to new nuclear plants.

Nuclear energy is a contentious topic in Europe, with some member states such as Germany and Austria against its future use, while France and Britain plan to build new reactors.

The European Commission will by the end of the year publish an initiative outlining insurance and liability in relation to nuclear accidents.

"It's an area which is fraught with complexity," Philip Lowe, director general of the Commission's energy department, told reporters in Brussels this week.

Part of the complexity was the question of how much of the disaster insurance cost could be absorbed by the market.

More than 40 percent of Europe's operating nuclear power reactors are located in France, while four more are under construction in Finland, France and Slovakia and another eight are planned.

(Reporting by Karolin Schaps in London and Barbara Lewis in Brussels; editing by James Jukwey)

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