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EU to carry out nuclear plant stress test

Stress tests on all nuclear plants in the EU will be carried out by the end of the year to reasses risks in light of the Japanese nuclear crisis, the European Commission said yesterday.

A voluntary accord struck at talks in Brussels is designed to bolster current high safety standards in the wake of the Japanese nuclear crisis, said EU energy commissioner Gunther Oettinger.

He was speaking after two-and-a-half hours of talks with experts from national nuclear safety authorities, nuclear plant operators and plant suppliers in the EU.

Some of the EU’s energy ministers attended, but the UK was represented by Nuclear Installation Inspectorate chief nuclear inspector Mike Weightman and Office of Nuclear Development chief executive Mark Higson.

There was “general agreement”, said the commissioner, on the swift introduction of stress tests to a common EU standard.

He said: “Over the course of the next week we in the Commission will organise further meetings to come up with proposals for how and when stress tests with common standards and criteria can be carried out for purposes of safety in the light of knowledge gleaned from the terrible events in Japan.”

He went on: “This is a reassessment of all potential risks − earthquakes, tsunamis, terror attacks, cooling systems and operational activities, hazards including power cuts in situ, requirements for back-up systems, and design structures of nuclear power plants.”

The EU already has a Nuclear Safety Directive covering the 143 nuclear plants in the member states, although Oettinger emphasised that nuclear safety requirements remain “first and foremost” the responsibility of national authorities.

The Directive was agreed in 2009, effectively implementing at EU level the International Atomic Energy Agency’s “Fundamental Safety Principles” and obligations required of nuclear states under a “Convention on Nuclear Safety.”

EU states already adhere to or exceed the requirements, but technical application of the Directive in domestic law in the 27 countries is due to be completed by this July at the latest.

Now the Commissioner says plans for a 2014 review of the Directive will be brought forward, with an interim report soon on whether the Directive’s remit should be extended.

“This stress test plan is a first step towards genuine Europeanisation in this area” said Oettinger. “We are creating a common European standard for tests for nuclear power plants.”

He went on: “There are high European safety standards already, but these will be further enhanced by European stress tests.”

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