June 23, 2011 / 4:00 PM / 6 years ago

Russia among EU neighbors to test nuclear safety

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Russia and six other neighbors of the European Union agreed to follow the EU's lead by imposing new safety checks on their nuclear power stations, the EU's executive said Thursday.

"Following the ongoing re-assessment of nuclear plants in the EU, several neighboring countries will perform similar stress tests," the European Commission said in a statement.

"Armenia, Croatia, Russia, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine and Belarus, agreed today that they will reassess their existing and planned nuclear power plants, using the stress tests developed by the EU as a reference," it added.

Last month, European nuclear watchdogs agreed details of new safety checks on the region's 143 reactors.

By June 1, regulators will have to start checking power plants' resilience to earthquakes and tsunamis to avert any crisis like that at Japan's stricken Fukushima plant, but terrorist scenarios will be left out.

The tests, which followed two months of dispute, also address the ability of reactors to withstand more common threats such as forest fires, transport accidents and the loss of electrical power supplies.

Thursday's agreement with Europe's six neighbors also includes a peer review, meaning that each national safety assessment will be checked by other countries' experts, the Commission said.

"Nuclear safety is indivisible," EU energy commissioner Guenther Oettinger said in a statement. "This is a huge joint step forward, for us, and for the neighbors on the European continent."

Europe's divisions over nuclear power have deepened since Fukushima, with Britain and France remaining steadfast supporters, Italy shelving plans to build new plants and Germany planning a 2022 phase-out.

While the EU stress tests will have no legal teeth, the details will be made public. That means any plant to fail will come under ever more intense pressure from the anti-nuclear lobby.

This could put particular pressure on plants without containment structures for reactors or fuel pools, or those that face seismic threats.

That could put the spotlight on Britain's gas-cooled Magnox reactors, Russian-made units in Slovakia, Hungary and the Czech Republic, and old boiling-water reactors in Germany, Spain, Sweden and Finland.

Reporting by Pete Harrison, editing by Rex Merrifield and Alison Birrane

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