More nations join European 'stress tests'

24 June 2011

The European Commission's initiative to check the safety of nuclear power plants in extreme circumstances has grown to include 196 reactors with the participation of seven neighbouring countries.  


The EU itself contains 27 states and their 143 nuclear reactors represent the group's largest source of energy production. Within a week of the Fukushima accident, the European Commission announced that it would put every nuclear power plant through a 'stress test' to see how each would cope in extraordinary circumstances.


Surrounded by EU members, Switzerland was quick to say it would take part in the exercise. It was today joined by Armenia, Belarus, Croatia, Russia, Turkey and Ukraine in a joint declaration that collectively confirmed willingness to undertake stress tests on a voluntary basis.


"The need for a consistent approach towards nuclear safety by all countries making use of it is reinforced by today's shared vision that highlights the potential cross-border nature of nuclear accidents."


They also agreed "to engage on a multilateral level and with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in a discussion for strong and common safety standards as well as international peer reviews." Earlier this week, IAEA director general Yukiya Amano said he wanted the agency to begin a program of reviews of safety at individual power plants.


The new countries bring a total of 53 reactors into the program: there are 32 in Russia, 15 in Ukraine, 5 in Switzerland and 1 in Armenia. Croatia has a 50% stake in the Krsko plant located in Slovenia, which is a member of the EU. For their part, Belarus and Turkey have advanced plans for nuclear power plants.


The tests 


The operators of each plant are already conducting the desktop studies, which focus on the aspects of plant safety highlighted by Fukushima: the natural events of earthquakes and floods, as well as loss of safety functions and severe accident management following any kind of initiating event.


These analyses will follow what the ENSREG group of EU nuclear regulators called a progressive approach "in which protective measures are sequentially assumed to be defeated" from starting conditions which "represent the most unfavourable operational states."
The operators have to explain their means to maintain "the three fundamental safety functions (control of reactivity, fuel cooling confinement of radioactivity)" and support functions for these, "taking into account the probable damage done by the initiating event."


Operators should send a progress report on their work to their regulators by 15 August and a final version by 31 October. EU regulators are to report progress to the European Commission on 15 September and in full by 31 December. All the participating regulators will share information and peer-review each others' final reports, and this will now include the seven extra nations that today declared their willingness.


Researched and written
by World Nuclear News