18 March 2011 by Pelle Neroth
Anyhow, it's yet another reminder of the new powers bequeathed to the European institutions after the Lisbon treaty. Nuclear safety is now a shared European competence, and Oettinger has made sure we all know it.
By June this year, the EU's 27 member states will have had to perform "stress tests" on all 143 of their nuclear power stations, whatever "stress test" means. (The details will be worked out at a meeting in April.)
Before being taken up by Oettinger, the suggestion reportedly came at the behest of Austria's minister for energy. Austria is a country of eight million, an ally of Germany, with plenty of hydropower, no nuclear power stations, nor any plans to develop any. Austria also has a very powerful green lobby.
It is also worth noting that Oettinger is a close ally of Angela Merkel, who appeared to perform an about-turn on last autumn's new nuclear friendly policy when she shut seven of the country's ageing reactors temporarily - or will it be permanently? - in the wake of the Japanese nuclear disaster, raising fears of higher energy prices for German consumers.
The disaster was rated by Japanese as "4 out 7" in on the risk scale. Chernobyl, the 25th anniversary of which is next month, is rated 7; whereas Harrisburg was a 4.
Oettinger told a Brussels press conference the Japanese disaster was probably a six. On what basis he felt certain about offering a different view than Japanese nuclear experts in situ was not quite clear.
It is sometimes hard to read the leylines of power. The EU is certainly more powerful than before the Lisbon treaty, but behind the European commission - which comprises 20,000 civil servants, not that many - lies the member states, and Germany is certainly asserting its power more.
No longer just the benign dumb giant and paymaster, the most populous and richest member state is still benign - but definitely firmer. David Cameron had a taste of this when he tried to launch no fly zones against Libya in this last week. Merkel said no, in several forums, and he had to go through the UN instead.
It used to be said that Germany covers for French weakness. And France covers for German strength. Ie, France calls the shots and Germany shoulders the European burden. That is perhaps no longer as true.
What will the German decision on its power plants mean for nuclear power in Germany? Merkel's decision to postpone the closing of old power plants last autumn caused controversy in this most anti-nuclear of nations. Now she is going with the flow.
And, through this new EU competence and having Merkel's own man in the energy post, what will this mean for nuclear power in the rest of the EU?
France and the UK are the EU countries with the highest number of nuclear reactors, 58 and 19 respectively
Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent
Posted By: Pelle Neroth @ 18 March 2011 07:40 AM Energy
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