Power struggle over EU nuclear safety

13 February 2014

National regulators should remain responsible for nuclear safety in the European Union (EU), the nuclear industry has argued. The European Commission has proposed to increase its powers in a new safety directive.

European Nuclear Safety Regulators Group (ENSREG) chairman Gerald Hennenhöfer suggested that the commission does not have the experience to ensure and assess the safety of European nuclear power plants.

He was speaking at a public hearing in Brussels organised by the European Parliament on the amendments proposed last summer by the commission to the European Union (EU) nuclear safety directive, which would give the EC regulatory power regarding the safety of nuclear power plants in Europe.

"The new directive should take a goal-setting approach to strengthen the responsibility, the competence and the independence of national regulators."

Jean-Pol Poncelet
Director general of Foratom

The commission would be able to take EU countries to court if they do not implement technical recommendations from mandatory peer reviews that would also be authorised by the revised directive. Hennenhöfer said the EC should not have the sole right to make such recommendations or decide if they have been flouted. "We can work together towards a peer review system and would be able to set up a new regulatory body in the future that would have the necessary expertise," he said.

Director general of Foratom, the European nuclear trade body, Jean-Pol Poncelet agreed that national regulators should remain in charge of the safety of the nuclear facilities in their countries. "This responsibility cannot be shared or diluted without risking undermining their authority and consequently the effectiveness and credibility of the safety measures," he said. "There is a risk for confusion and even double jeopardy if more than one regulator is involved."

Poncelet also argued that the European Commission should only set targets for nuclear safety in Europe and leave it up to the national regulators to ensure that they are met. "The new directive should take a goal-setting approach to strengthen the responsibility, the competence and the independence of national regulators."

He added that harmonization at various levels should be strongly promoted as part of the revision process. Foratom considers "enhanced cooperation between national safety authorities is the best way to reach alignment of nuclear safety at EU level to the highest safety standards."

In its suggested amendments, the EC has proposed mandatory stress tests for European nuclear facilities every six years and a set of criteria to ensure national regulators are truly independent from interference from the government or from the industry when they make decisions.

The European Parliament has a consultative status in the process of amending the directive. The EU Council of Ministers will have the final word on the law. For the moment, technical experts from all EU countries are working on the revisions, to agree a text by May. The law should be adopted before the end of June, according to sources from the Council.

By Carmen Paun
for World Nuclear News