EU to invite neighbours to match nuclear 'stress tests'

21st March 2011, Comments 0 comments

European Union states will ask neighbouring countries such as Russia and Ukraine to conduct similar nuclear reactor "stress tests" to their own, re-examining safety in the light of the Japan crisis.

While EU energy ministers were called to Brussels for emergency talks on safety and supply issues in the wake of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami that triggered radiation leakage, no decisions were taken on a new, voluntary safety testing regime.

The chair of the talks, Hungarian minister for national development Tamas Fellegi, said a "common checklist" and implementation would be agreed by the end of the year and be put to near-neighbours for implementation also at non-EU nuclear power plants.

German Economy Minister Rainer Bruederle wanted the EU tests to be "obligatory", after weekend elections gave Chancellor Angela Merkel's party a wake-up call despite the temporary shutdown of Germany's seven oldest reactors pending a safety review there.

"We have to look at earthquakes, the risk of floods, tsunamis, and revise cooling systems and their operational safety," Fellegi said, also listing "plane crashes and cyber attacks" among contingencies.

It was necessary to ensure energy supply to cooling systems and be certain they had functioning networks and back-up systems should the initial electricity supply run out, he said.

"Everyone agrees that security has to be at the top level," he underlined, also putting nuclear waste under the scope of a review ministers want the European Commission to design.

"We can also make a similar (invitation) to our neighbouring partners outside the EU with their plants," Fellegi stressed.

Lithuania's Andronius Azubalis, whose country is concerned that plants just "kilometres" (miles) from the EU's borders are in "violation" of international standards, said the EU should push for close neighbours such as Russia to match new evaluations.

And non-nuclear Austria is anxious over plants in the ex-communist Czech Republic and ex-Yugoslav Slovenia.

French Energy Minister Eric Besson said France, home to 58 of the EU's 143 reactors, was "at the forefront in safety matters" with "a nuclear safety authority that is extremely demanding, and whose (political) independence is not in doubt".

France will conduct its own "general review of all our reactors, all our plants, in the light of what happened in Japan", he said.

Belgium's Paul Magnette, meanwhile, called for the tests to be conducted by "independent regulators" and for the results to be made fully public.

"We are committed to publishing the results and acting on the consequences of these results," he said.

"That means closing a reactor if the result is unsatisfactory."

© 2011 AFP

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