Could European nuclear power plants withstand an extreme natural disaster or would they be as susceptible as Japan’s Fukushima, which suffered a meltdown of three of its reactors after an earthquake and tsunami in March 2011?
Stress tests ordered by the European Commission and carried out at the 132 operational plants across Europe found safety standards are generally high, but there is still room for improvement – an assessment not as bad as a leaked draft report.
Answering accusations that the final report had been watered down, EU Commissioner for Energy Günther Oettinger said: “I didn’t exert any influence on this report. I didn’t say ‘here one cross needs to be added and there one needs to be removed’. No government or operating company has exerted any influence.”
Some in the industry are fed up of what they see as rivalry between an EU wanting more authority and individual member states who actually hold all the power.
One of them is Jean-Pol Poncelet, Director General of Foratom, a Brussels-based body that represents the nuclear power industry.
“It’s a bit pathetic to hear today that there’s obvious conflict between Europe and national authorities. We, the industry, are in charge of applying regulations, and we don’t want to be held hostage in a political conflict between the Member States, regulators and the Commission,” said Poncelet.
There is also the question of the cost of safety upgrades.
MEP for the Greens Michèle Rivasi estimates that Brussels is talking about 10 to 25 billion euros for all the plants.
“Between 100 and 200 million per reactor. Can you imagine the cost just to ensure that there’s no a Fukushima in France! The price of nuclear energy will go up and then it’ll be taxpayers who pay,” she added.
In the end, decisions about the cost and scope of work will be taken by individual member states, as Brussels can not impose anything.