EU agrees tougher nuclear safety rules after Fukushima disaster

BRUSSELS Wed Jun 11, 2014 6:32am EDT

Wearing a protective suit and a mask, an employee of Japan's Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) walks carefully along a dark aisle at TEPCO's tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant at Okuma town in Fukushima prefecture May 14, 2014. REUTERS/Toru Yamanaka/Pool

Wearing a protective suit and a mask, an employee of Japan's Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) walks carefully along a dark aisle at TEPCO's tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant at Okuma town in Fukushima prefecture May 14, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Toru Yamanaka/Pool

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BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union has agreed a new law to strengthen safety standards and improve supervision of nuclear facilities in response to lessons learned from the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, the European Commission said on Wednesday.

In March 2011, an earthquake and tsunami caused the world's worst nuclear accident in 25 years, spewing radiation over a swathe of Fukushima and forcing 160,000 people from their homes.

The European Union, in response, carried out a series of stress tests to examine the resilience of nuclear power stations and used the results to draft a response plan based on the latest international standards.

"We need to put all our efforts into making sure that the highest safety standards are followed in every single nuclear power plant across the EU," Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger said in a statement.

The Commission found that safety improvements costing anywhere between 10 billion and 25 billion euros were necessary in European nuclear plants. There are 132 nuclear reactors in operation in Europe today.

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

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

The new legislation also introduces a system of European peer reviews to be carried out at least every six years.

It strengthens the independence and the powers of national regulators. For the first time it sets out a clear nuclear safety objective to further reduce safety risks, the Commission said.

The EU's executive arm signed a cooperation memorandum with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in September last year, designed to strengthen emergency preparedness and response capabilities among others.

The agreement still needs formal approve from EU heads of government in order to become law.

(Reporting by Martin Santa; editing by Jason Neely)

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