Leaked report: most nuclear plants need safety upgrades
by Daniel Mason
Stress tests on Europe's nuclear power plants have found that "practically all" of them require safety improvements to protect against emergencies, according to a leaked draft of the results.
The European Union ordered the tests on the ability of the region's 143 licensed nuclear plants to withstand events such as earthquakes or flooding in response to the disaster at Fukushima in Japan in March 2011.
Ahead of the formal publication of the conclusions, The Wall Street Journal reported a provisional version as saying: "On the basis of the stress test results practically all nuclear power plants need to undergo safety improvements." The report puts the costs of the necessary upgrades at between €30m and €200m for each reactor and at between €10bn and €25bn overall.
Most of the recommendations relate to France, which has 58 nuclear plants. The issues raised include the failure to ensure safety functions can be restored within an hour of an electricity blackout, the need to improve earthquake monitoring and the safe storage of emergency equipment.
The report and recommendations are expected to be finalised by the European Commission at its weekly meeting tomorrow before being presented at the next summit of EU leaders on October 18 and 19 by energy commissioner Günther Oettinger, whose home country Germany has decided to phase out the use of nuclear.
In a statement Oettinger said: "Our stress test was strict, serious and transparent: it reveals bluntly and objectively what we are good at and where there is a need to improve. Generally the situation is satisfactory but there is no room for complacency. We must work together to ensure that the highest safety standards are in force in every single nuclear power plant in Europe."
But in comments reported by EUobserver, Tero Varjoranta, who chairs the European Nuclear Safety Regulators Group, said: "The content of a draft was known by some Ensreg members and this draft raised major problems and concerns." He said the group had not been provided with a copy of the draft by the commission.
There was scathing criticism, though, from Rebecca Harms, co-president of the Greens/European Free Alliance in the European Parliament. "The final report of the EU nuclear stress test charade looks set to dodge all the tough questions as expected. One thing seems clear: this exercise has been orchestrated to cause as little stress to the nuclear industry as possible.
"While the report found deficiencies in many of Europe's nuclear reactors, there are no real proposals for follow-up. However, the fact that the stress tests failed to address risks in crucial areas – ageing technology, terrorist attacks or human error – is a more damning indictment of the whole exercise."