Stress tests show room for EU improvement

05 October 2012

Safety is generally good at Europe's nuclear power plants although nearly all need to make some improvements, according to the European Commission's formally released findings on the results of stress tests. Some regulators are not entirely happy with the way the Commission has drawn its conclusions.

EC Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger presented the Commission's conclusions to the European Council and European Parliament on 4 October, several days after a leaked copy of a draft version of the report had received widespread coverage in European news media. Describing the situation at Europe's plants as "generally satisfactory", Oettinger said that the tests had revealed "where we are good at and where we need to improve."

Although the tests have not shown that any European nuclear power plant should be shut down for safety reasons, they have identified a number of plant-specific technical improvements. They also revealed that international safety standards and best practices are not being uniformly implemented across all the member states of the European Union (EU). Further improvements are needed at nearly all of the EU's operating nuclear power plants, the report says.

Areas highlighted for attention at a number of reactors include tightening the application of standards for earthquake and flooding risk calculations, the installation or improvement of on-site seismic instruments, the installation of containment filtered venting systems at those reactors that do not already have them, the storage of equipment needed in the event of severe accident in "places protected even in the event of general devastation" and the availability of a backup emergency control room should an accident render the main control room unusable.

Although many actions are already under way to address the findings of the stress tests at individual plants, national action plans with timetables for intervention are to be prepared by the end of the year for peer review in early 2013 "in order to verify that the stress tests recommendations are consistently implemented in a transparent way throughout Europe," the Commission notes.  The Commission intends to report on the implementation of the recommendations in June 2014, in partnership with national regulators.

The Commission has also reviewed the existing European legal framework for nuclear safety and says it will present a revision of the current nuclear safety directive in early 2013, focusing on safety requirements, the role and powers of nuclear regulatory authorities, transparency and monitoring. This will be followed by further proposals on nuclear insurance and liability and on maximum permitted levels of radioactive contamination in food and feedstuff.

The stress test program was ordered by the European Union in response to the March 2011 Fukushima Daiichi accident. It comprised safety assessments carried out by nuclear operators, which were then reviewed by national regulators, resulting in national reports which then underwent a peer review process. The finalised reports were endorsed by the independent European Nuclear Safety Regulators Group (ENSREG) in April 2012.


While regulators and industry representatives greeted the Commission's communication by repeating their unswerving dedication to improving nuclear safety, some expressed reservations on the methodology applied by the Commission in drawing its conclusions.

French national nuclear regulator ASN said in a statement that the conclusions "ignore some important recommendations" of the final ENSREG report. In a statement, the ASN pointed out that national regulators had not been involved in the preparation of the newly published document and said it had "no knowledge of the methodology used or the entities and persons involved". The regulator said its "reservations" about the conclusions of the European Commission document included its failure to take into account the consideration of multiple accidents at the same plant or the need for external means for rapid response in case of accident.

UK chief nuclear inspector Mike Weightman also said that the European Commission's communication did not reflect the evidence-based findings of the stress test process or the conclusions of ENSREG and other independent national nuclear regulators. "The events at Fukushima Daiichi re-emphasize the importance of effective separation between the functions of the regulatory body and those of any other body or organisation concerned with the promotion or utilisation of nuclear energy," he added.

ENSREG members also voiced concerns about the European Commission communication document's likely contents prior to its release.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News