MEPs call for improved nuclear safety in Eastern Europe

MEPs yesterday adopted a calling on the Commission and the EBRD not to grant any funding for first generation reactors except for short-term safety improvements and not to grant any Euratom loans for the modernisation of other reactors until there is a clear commitment to close down first generation reactors considered unsafe.

According to MEP Gordon Adam, the EU has failed in its efforts to ensure the closure of unsafe nuclear reactors in Central and Eastern Europe, and its efforts to ensure respect for international standards are seen as unwanted interference.

The EU’s policy was designed to improve safety primarily in the first generation reactors and to a certain extent this had been achieved, he said.

The aim was to work through the International Atomic Energy Agency with a view to ensuring respect for international standards. The problem was that the countries concerned resented what they saw as “unwarranted interference”, especially in view of the importance in economic terms to countries such as Lithuania and Bulgaria, who exported nuclear energy worth $600m annually to Turkey. It also had to be admitted that the EU had failed to ensure the closure of unsafe reactors.

The lesson to be learned, said Adam was that policy should be based on real co-operation and negotiations – the EU should not try to impose its will on the countries concerned since this was doomed to failure.

In response, Hans Van Den Broek of the European Commission accepted the points made by Mr Adam but said that lessons had been learned. It was now recognised that the EU had to deal with sovereign states with their own policy towards nuclear energy and that it wasn’t possible to insist on closing down reactors. Nevertheless, progress had been made in improving safety standards and he argued that the $800m spent on this had in fact had an impact and that the role of independent regulatory authorities had been strengthened.

The aim was to improve operating practices and for example to modernise nuclear waste management and this had been partly achieved. There were however design problems with the early reactors and, he said, it would cost billions of euros to finance a policy of wholesale closure. In fact, he said, some $600-800m had already been spent on improving the Sarcophagus at Chernobyl.

Nevertheless, the Commission, he said, would continue to argue for the closure of nuclear power stations when it was the only realistic strategy and modernisation was not possible.

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