A senior official of the European Commission’s transport and energy (TREN) directorate-general has given a clear outline of how the Commission sees its own role in shaping the future of nuclear energy policy among EU member states.

Speaking at a private meeting with senior industry representatives in Brussels, the official placed current EU policy on nuclear firmly within the context of its overall energy policy, in particular, its Green Paper on ensuring security of supply. He made the following points:

• Waste and spent fuel. The Commission is preparing a draft framework directive on management of spent nuclear fuel and radioactive waste, which will require member states to prepare a detailed strategy or work programmme, and to report back to the Commission at regular intervals. This directive would not advocate a single EU waste repository, but would encourage member states to develop their own solutions.

• EU-wide safety standards. The Commission plans to propose moves to harmonise European nuclear safety standards, and senior regulators in various countries are expected to work closely together on preparing such standards. There appears to be a general public demand for EU standards to be higher than those set by the IAEA. Such harmonised standards would be likely to have a positive effect in terms of public acceptance. However, no further details are yet available, and it is too early to give any sort of timetable for the development of these proposals.

• Safeguarding the nuclear option. The Commission’s task is not to promote the use of any particular nuclear technology, but to create the environment in which nuclear energy can be used safely in those states that wish to do so. The Commission should do all it can to promote the necessary conditions for keeping the nuclear option open, notably through its activities in such fields as nuclear safety and radioactive waste management.

• Security of supply. The Commission will report on the conclusions of the ongoing debate on its supply security Green Paper to the next meeting of the European Council. If approved, it will then propose several further measures – possibly including a new draft Illustrative Nuclear Programme (PINC). However, officials add that the Commission may be ‘less enthusiastic’ in its promotion of nuclear power in the wake of the September 11 attacks and subsequent ‘changes in public and political sentiments’.

• Fusion technology. The Commission foresees operation of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) by 2020, although it points out that a siting decision has yet to be made. On that basis, an electricity-producing reactor could be operational by 2050.

The issue of nuclear safety standards earned a specific mention in the conclusions of the Laeken summit of the European Council. One paragraph read: “The Council undertakes to maintain a high level of nuclear safety in the Union. It stresses the need to monitor the security and safety of nuclear power stations. It calls for regular reports from member states’ atomic energy experts, who will maintain close contact with the Commission.”