EC revises nuclear safety directive proposal

27 November 2008

The European Commission (EC) has adopted a revised proposal for a directive establishing a European-wide framework for nuclear safety. The proposal aims to incorporate international guidelines into EU law.

The revised proposal replaces and updates one tabled in September 2004, which failed to get the backing of member states because it took reduced the powers of national nuclear safety regulators. The new proposal aims to incorporate the obligations of the Convention on Nuclear Safety (CNS) and the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA's) Safety Fundamentals guidelines into EU legislation.

The new proposal also builds on the technical work of the Western European Nuclear Regulators Association (WENRA) completed in 2006 for existing nuclear installations, with the participation of all European nuclear safety regulators. It also builds on the principle that that "only strong and independent regulators can ensure the continued safe operation of nuclear power plants in the EU."

If approved by the national governments, the directive will cover "the design, siting, construction, maintenance, operation and decommissioning of nuclear installations, for which consideration of safety is required under the legislative and regulatory framework of the member state concerned."

Under the proposal, the High Level Group on Nuclear Safety and Waste Management (ENSREG) will become "the focal point of cooperation between regulators and will contribute to the continuous improvement of nuclear safety requirements, especially with respect to new reactors," the EC said.

The EC said that the new directive "responds to EU citizens' concerns for Europe-wide binding safety legislation for the operation of nuclear power plants. It defines basic obligations and general principles for the safety of nuclear installations in the EU while enhancing the role of national regulatory bodies."

According to the EC, until now there has been "limited standardization of safety requirements" between EU member states. It added, "The recent renewed interest in the use of nuclear energy makes convergence rules at EU level even more necessary in order to support the member states in their efforts to continuously improve nuclear safety."

Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs said, "This directive will benefit EU citizens by improving their safety and giving them legal certainty. Members States will have a common reference framework for their respective national nuclear safety systems and retain their right to apply more stringent rules if required."

The EC said, "The renewed interest in nuclear power expressed by a number of member states, with the perspective of numerous life extensions and construction of new plants, makes the timing of this revised proposal particularly appropriate."

"The continued use of nuclear energy ... would contribute to the EU energy supply security as well as to the limitation of CO2 emissions," the EC said. However, it added, "The right of each member state to use nuclear energy or not in its energy mix is recognized and fully respected."