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EU's 143 nuclear power stations to undergo stress testing - voluntarily

European Commission says all EU nuclear power plants to undergo stress testing from 1 June – but on a voluntary basis, as the Commission can’t enforce testing.

Image: AP Photo/Douglas C. Pizac

ALL 143 NUCLEAR power plants in the EU will face stress tested from 1 June, according to the European Commission.

The decision comes in the wake of Japan’s nuclear crisis, which was sparked by the major earthquake and subsequent tsunami which struck northern parts of the country on 11 March.  The disasters disconnected power to the Fukushima power plant’s cooling systems, meaning fuel rods overheated and three of its six reactors suffered a meltdown.

Efforts to completely shut the plant down and contain leaking radiation continue.

The EU says it defines stress test “as a targeted reassessment of the safety margins of nuclear power plants in the light of the events which occurred at Fukushima: extreme natural events challenging the plant safety functions and leading to a severe accident”. It says that “severe accident situations can occur only when several design provisions have failed”.

However, the stress tests are carried out voluntarily by member states: the European Commission cannot force them to do so.

Stress testing

The tests will assess the possible impact of extreme situations on the power stations and particularly emergency measures which can be implemented if safety systems are compromised. According to the Commission, the tests will also consider situations such as terrorist attacks and plane crashes as well as natural disasters, but the prevention of terror attacks will not be examined as it is considered a national security issue.

A spokesperson for the Department of the Environment told TheJournal.ie today that: “Ireland will be engaging constructively in the rigorous application” of the stress tests and pushing for any follow-ups required after the findings have been published. “Our concern is to ensure that the highest levels of nuclear safety are in place,” he added.

National regulators will be responsible for carrying out the assessments and final national reports from those countries with nuclear power plants are expected on 31 December, the Commission says. Multinational teams which include representatives from the Commission will then review those national reports.

However, Greenpeace has criticised the Commission’s stress tests as “stress tests lite”:

These safety checks won’t be independent, won’t cover plans for emergencies and won’t always tell us whether some of Europe’s most obvious terrorist targets are protected or not. The pro-nuclear governments in the UK, France and the Czech Republic are responsible for watering down the deal.

EU ministers had previously reached a deadlock when discussing the introduction of stress tests. Today, European Commissioner for Energy Gunther Oettinger said:

I appreciate that the Commission and the Member States’ regulators have been able to agree on comprehensive and ambitious risk and safety assessments for nuclear power plants. We will put all our efforts into implementing the highest safety standards for nuclear power plants in and close to the European Union.The tough part starts now: implementing the criteria with all the necessary rigour.

Switzerland to decommission power plants

The UN’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, is currently in Japan to gather information on the lessons Japan learned from the Fukushima crisis, as well as assess if there are any other area that require further examination.

The Swiss government announced today that it will decommission all of the country’s five nuclear power plants, three months after putting plans to build new nuclear facilities on hold.

Switzerland was planning to build three new nuclear power stations, but suspended those plans after the Fukushima crisis began.

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