Leaked report sparks stress test debate

02 October 2012

A leaked copy of the European Commission's draft report on the findings from stress tests at all of Europe's nuclear power plants has sparked widespread media coverage.

After an unprecedented tsunami triggered the nuclear accident at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi plant in March 2011, the European Union (EU) ordered that stress tests be performed at all of the region's nuclear power plants. The tests are in-depth reassessments of nuclear power plant safety margins in the event of extraordinary trigger events like earthquakes or floods as well as other circumstances that could potentially lead to the loss of safety systems, and have now been carried out at all of the EU's 143 nuclear power plants as well as those in non-EU Switzerland and Ukraine.

Now, with the stress tests completed, the European Commission (EC) is in the process of finalising its conclusions and recommendations from the test process to the European Council. However, a draft version of the EC report has found its way into the hands of European news media, triggering reports in Germany's Die Welt and France's Le Figaro amongst others that the tests have revealed "hundreds" of defects at European plants. Many reports cited a statement from EU energy commissioner Gunther Oettinger that the situation was "satisfactory" but that there was no room for complacency.

Speaking at a press conference, EC energy spokesperson Marlene Holzner would not confirm the contents of the report, saying that the EC is still in the process of finalising its recommendations ready to present them at the October summit of the European Council. Holzner told journalists she did not know how the details of the draft report had reached the media.

Tero Varjoranta, chair of the independent European Nuclear Safety Regulators Group (ENSREG), which helped to draw up the scope of the tests as well as peer reviewing the final reports submitted by the individual EU countries, said the organisation had not seen the draft report. In a statement released on 1 October, Varjoranta said that ENSREG knew that the EC intended to present its communication on stress tests to the European Council and the European Parliament on 4 October.

No draft of the communication had been made available to ENSREG, although its content was known by some ENSREG members and had raised "major problems and concerns". As a result, the contents of the communication had taken up most of a meeting held by the group on 27 September at which ENSREG had agreed a list of 10 key points that the final communication should address, including that it should be "accurate and unbiased" and should be "carefully phrased and presented, to avoid undermining public confidence."

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News