5 October 2012 by Pelle Neroth
The "stress tests" were set up following the Fukushima accident in Japan in March 2011. The 145 nuclear reactors currently operating in Europe were to be assessed in terms of their safety and robustness in the case of extreme natural events, mainly floods and earthquakes. Both scenarios were tested simultaneously. Weaknesses in safety have been found, according the report published yesterday.
Headlines in the British and European press have blared out the expected costs of safety improvements Europewide as amounting to 25 billion euros as the headline message of the report. But Gunther Oettinger, the commissioner for energy, admitted that no reactor presented such risks that it had to be closed down.
He added: "Altogether the safety situation in Europe is at a good level. It is satisfactory. Together with the national regulatory authorities, we have concluded that there is no nuclear power plant which needs to be shut down immediately for safety reasons."
Which sounds assuring. But the French nuclear industry Europe's largest, is keen to be on control of the nuclear safety issues itself, which it takes extremely seriously. There is a tug of war going on here.
Oettinger is German and Germany has turned against nuclear power. The country, as many people are aware, is phasing out its nuclear commitment following the Fukushima disaster. The deadline is 2022. Nuclear power is a national competence. France is committed to keeping nuclear, which supplies 85% of the country's electricity. But are these stress tests and the decisions that will flow from it a backdoor way by the Germans to influence the future of nuclear debate in France?
The French nuclear regulator ASN said there was a "certain ambiguity" in the commission's communication. It was not a test of the general safety of nuclear plants. "But a test of Europe's nuclear power plants in extreme situations", like tsnunamis or earthquakes. Deputy director Sophie Mourlon put out a statement on Thursday complaining that the final draft published on Thursday had not been passed by the association of European nuclear regulators ENSREG and that it differed from the draft it had seen in April. ENSREG for its part has emphasized the "importance of the message being formulated carefully and presented not undermine the public's trust". In short: the commission must not be alarmist.
ASN also pleaded that the response from government leaders at the next EU summit on 18 October be presented directly to national regulators, and not passing via Brussels. Presumably for fear that the European Commission will have too much control over implementation. It is no secret that Oettinger, who is close to Angela Merkel, is not exactly a fan of nuclear. Judging by Oettinger's remarks, the debate seems to be shifting from the risks of nuclear plants to whether insurance in case of risk is underpriced. If new insurance fees come into play under a new commission directive, nuclear energy might become less competitive for the consumer relative to other energy sources.
With higher costs, nuclear becomes less attractive and the renewables alternatives which Germany is busy seeking global market leadership in becomes ever more attractive. This morning's headline in the German newspaper Die Welt was "France outraged by the EU nuclear stress test". It adds, mind you, that the British, for their part, are just as resolutely hostile to any commission intervention on nuclear policy.
Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent
Posted By: Pelle Neroth @ 05 October 2012 03:16 PM Energy
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