The European Commission (EC) has signalled that it is prepared once again to push into the politically sensitive territory of nuclear safety, a policy often jealously protected by member states such as Britain and Germany.
In a detailed policy paper on the Nuclear Illustrative Programme dated 10 January 2007, the EC stressed the right of European Union (EU) member states to choose their own energy production mix, however, for those wanting nuclear energy, there should be some clear EU ground rules.
The Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament (COM(2006) 844 final) said: “The EU considers nuclear safety paramount in member states’ decision on whether to continue to use nuclear energy. For those member states that choose to go down the nuclear path, acceptability by the public will also be an important factor. In that respect, the Commission considers it a priority that the EU adopt a legal framework on nuclear safety, facilitating harmonisation and compliance with internationally acceptable standards and ensuring the availability of adequate funds for decommissioning NPPs [nuclear power plants] at the end of their life and national policy plans on management of radioactive waste.”
The EC also indicated that the timetable for debating such rules was pressing: “For those EU countries that choose to continue or to start making use of nuclear energy generation, member states’ governments need to take the necessary decisions. A significant number of NPPs are indeed due to close down within the next 20 years. Construction of new plants and/or extension of the current operating lifetimes of existing reactors will be required if the member states choose to maintain the current share of nuclear power in the overall energy mix.”
Underlining the politically sensitive nature of this issue, Brussels added: “There are clearly impacts for the EU as a whole from the decisions which individual member states take in the area of nuclear energy, although the choice of national energy mix use is a matter for each member state.” Furthermore, to “provide a more regular updated picture of the situation in the EU”, the Commission said it would “increase the frequency of publication” of its ‘nuclear illustrative programmes’ reports.