Nuclear reactor tests prompt warning


EUROPE’S NUCLEAR reactors need an investment of up to €25 billion to strengthen their resistance to earthquakes, floods, aircraft crashes, power failures and human error, experts have warned.

Releasing results of a stress test examination of 145 reactors in the EU and neighbouring countries, energy commissioner Günther Oettinger said the general situation was “satisfactory” but called for rapid action to improve safety.

“Nearly everywhere there is major potential for improvement,” the commissioner said yesterday in Brussels. The work required would cost between €10 billion and €25 billion, he added.

EU leaders initiated the stress tests last year in the wake of the Fukushima disaster in Japan, when the combined impact of an earthquake and a tsunami shut off the electricity supply needed to cool down the plant.

The tests were carried out by national regulators and the results were cross-checked in a “European peer review”.

While the commission said improvements were required in “almost all” European nuclear power stations, it added that national bodies found there was no need to close down any plant.

“These tests have established that not all safety standards promoted by the International Atomic Energy Agency and not all international best practices are applied in all member states,” it said.

The safety audit found that standards for the calculation of earthquake risk were not applied at 54 of the reactors and the flood risk standards were not applied in at 62 reactors.

According to the commission, seismic instruments to warn of possible earthquakes should be installed or improved in 121 reactors. It also noted that 32 plants were not equipped with systems to facilitate the depressurising of the reactor in case of an accident.

Mr Oettinger said he intended to make formal proposals on nuclear insurance and liability for any accidents, adding that such costs would have to be borne by the consumers of nuclear-generated electricity.

“Certainly, this will not lead to nuclear power being more competitive,” he said. The commissioner added that it was not his job to carry out a safety audit with the objective of making nuclear power cheaper for consumers.

The audit examined 58 reactors in France, 19 in Britain and 17 in Germany. The Sellafield nuclear reprocessing plant in Cumbria was examined separately as part of a national exercise in Britain.

“A report by the independent chief nuclear inspector in the UK commissioned immediately after events at Fukushima found the UK’s nuclear safety regulatory regime remains robust,” a British government spokeswoman said.

Questioned as to why some of the published results were different from leaked drafts, Mr Oettinger said the process was “dynamic” and insisted there was no interference in the results by any governments.

“There was absolutely no political interference in this whatsoever,” he said.

The threat of any terrorist attack on a nuclear plant was examined in a separate process.