European nuclear safety law

25 June 2009

A new Europe-wide nuclear safety directive has been adopted which sets up a legal framework based on already-acknowledged safety principles.


The Nuclear Safety Directive brings into law the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA's) Fundamental Safety Principles and the obligations from the Convention on Nuclear Safety. In practice, EU states already observe these and in most areas far exceed them, but some small changes might occur in each country as the directive is 'transposed' into their own legislature.


One particular benefit from the legislation is that EU member states that have decided not to use nuclear energy will now have a legal basis for assurance of nuclear safety in neighbouring countries. A possible knock-on effect from this, WNN was told, is that public confidence in nuclear energy across the continent should improve. Nuclear power already provides 30% of the EU's electricity, with France leading the pack by exporting its nuclear-generated power to all of its neighbours.


The directive was adopted today by the Environment Council subdivision of the European Council, populated by ministers from members states relevant European Commissioners. The precise text of the directive is yet to be released.


Foratom, the trade association for the European industry, welcomed the legislation which it said it had consistently suppported. The group said "an EU-wide nuclear safety framework is essential to ensure further harmonisation of safety standards at all of Europe's nuclear facilities."


With nuclear operators already responsible to competent bodies under the authority of each state and the EU directive transposed into national law books, any operator that broke the directive would also be breaking their own national laws. The binding nature of this directive also means that the European Commission could impose legal penalties on a state where safety standards had fallen below the directive levels.