Further improvements needed at European nuclear power plants, commission says

According to a report released by the European Commission on Oct. 4, the standards of safety at nuclear power plants in Europe are generally high, but further improvements in the safety features of almost all European nuclear power plants are recommended.

National safety authorities, though, came to the conclusion that no closure of nuclear power plants was warranted.

Following the Fukushima Daiichi accident in March 2011, the European Council called for comprehensive and transparent risk and safety assessments of all EU nuclear power plants. The stress tests were implemented to assess the safety and robustness of nuclear power plants in case of extreme natural events.

The European Commission released the report to discuss the results of the stress tests. The tests have established that not all safety standards promoted by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and not all international best practices are applied in all Member States. The commission said it will closely follow the implementation of the recommendations and at the same time will propose legislative measures to further enhance nuclear safety in Europe.

"The stress tests have revealed where we are good at and where we need to improve,” Commissioner Günther Oettinger said. “All authorities involved must work to ensure that the highest safety standards are in force in every single nuclear power plant in Europe.”

In addition to recommending numerous plant specific technical improvements, the stress tests have shown that International standards and practices have not been applied everywhere. The Commission also said lessons from Fukushima need to be taken into account. Among those lessons are:

  • Earthquake and flooding risk. Current standards for risk calculation are not applied in 54 reactors (for earthquake risk) and respectively 62 reactors (for flooding risk) out of the 145 checked. The risk calculation should be based on a 10,000-year timeframe, instead of the much shorter time periods sometimes used.
  • On-site seismic instruments to measure and alert of possible earthquakes should be available at every nuclear power plant. These instruments should be installed or improved in 121 reactors.
  • Containment filtered venting systems to allow safe depressurizing of the reactor containment in case of an accident, should be in place. Thirty-two reactors are not yet equipped with these systems.
  • Equipment to fight severe accidents should be stored in places protected even in the event of general devastation and from where it can be quickly obtained. This is not the case for 81 reactors in the EU.
  • A backup emergency control room should be available in case the main control room becomes inhabitable in case of an accident. These are not yet available in 24 reactors.

The European Commission said national action plans, with timetables for implementation, will be prepared by national regulators and made available by the end of 2012. The commission intends to report on the implementation of the stress test recommendations in June 2014, in full partnership with national regulators.

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