National nuclear safety regulators will have more independence and a new peer-review system under an amended EU Nuclear Safety Directive which was approved today.
Having been officially adopted by the European Council of heads of state today, the new Nuclear Safety Directive now must be translated into each members state's national law within three years. It represents an amendment to a directive drafted and adopted in 2009, before the Fukushima accident.
The new text provides a set of rules to support the independence of national nuclear safety regulators and was welcomed by nuclear industry trade group Foratom as "the successful culmination of 18 months of hard work and consensus-building." Foratom said the directive "strengthens the role and independence of Europe's national regulators and endorses agreed safety objectives for nuclear power plants, in accordance with the recommendations of the Western European Nuclear Regulators' Association (WENRA)." Controversial proposals to develop harmonised safety guidelines and an EU-wide licensing process did not make the final text.
The directive stipulates that all the EU's nuclear regulators must have: sufficient legal powers; sufficient staffing; the necessary expertise and experience; and sufficient financial resources.
Their work will also be complemented by a new system under which the regulators will individually assess a common nuclear safety topic and then peer review each others' reports. This will be organised every six years by the EU-wide European Nuclear Safety Regulators Group (ENSREG), on which the European Commission is an observer, and using the expertise of WENRA.
The results of these peer reviews will be made public and a set of "concrete technical recommendations and appropriate follow-up measures will be taken," said an EU statement.
The system builds upon the program of stress tests that looked at external threats and on-site response after the Fukushima accident.
Nuclear power plants
The directive's over-arching nuclear safety 'objective' requires EU states to commit to nuclear safety: it requires states to "ensure that nuclear installations are designed, sited, and constructed, commissioned, operated and decommissioned with the objective of preventing accidents and, should an accident occur, mitigating its consequences and avoiding radioactive release."
For existing nuclear power plants the EU said the objective means implementing "reasonably practicable" safety improvements. But for new nuclear power plants the requirement was more open to interpretation, calling for "significant safety enhancements in the design of new reactors for which the state of the art knowledge and technology should be used."
The EU noted that it had avoided making fixed technical demands which would "quickly become obsolete given the continuous improvements in safety expected over time."
A number of additional areas for EU-wide work included a project to enhance the consistency of national on-site emergency preparedness and response arrangments, and a requirement for operators to provide public information on the status of nuclear facilities at all times.
In addition to this directive, the EU has a Nuclear Waste Directive that legislates a pathway for its member states to make steady progress towards disposing of highly-radioactive wastes, including used nuclear fuel.
Researched and written
by World Nuclear News