Piebalgs defiant over EU atomic safety standards

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The European commission will continue to push for EU minimum nuclear safety standards despite EU governments' failure to entertain a package of draft legislation tabled over three years ago, energy commissioner Andris Piebalgs insisted on Wednesday.

Mr Piebalgs was speaking after meeting the head of the new EU high-level group on nuclear safety and waste management. "We still don't accept this defeat in the council of ministers," he said.

"We are changing our tactics if not our strategy…the high-level group will certainly help to take a position and get support for the package, or to change it if the high-level group says it should be changed," he continued.

The proposals themselves were already watered-down versions of ideas drafted by Mr Piebalgs's predecessor, the late Loyola de Palacio.

Two years ago a group of western European nuclear regulators said standards were harmonising naturally and that no EU intervention was necessary. Mr Piebalgs noted that the high-level group includes nuclear regulators from all 27 EU states, many of which do not use the technology for commercial power generation.

"It's much more important now to build consensus," he said. "We need to have an answer on how to treat nuclear waste, not only for the next generation, but also for reasons of competition with other sources of energy."

The energy commissioner also said it may be time for a renewed EU focus on standards for nuclear decommissioning funds. The commission did not include the issue in the high-level group's mandate, despite support from the council of ministers and a later report highlighting wide variations in practice across member states.

"The commission is moving the issue as far as we can. For different reasons we haven't supported it [in the high-level group]. It's time that we can revisit this issue," Mr Piebalgs said. "If [decommissioning funds] are not sufficient, it's the taxpayers of tomorrow that pay, and the companies of today that make a profit. I hope for progress."

The high-level group's chairman, Slovenian Andrej Stritar, confirmed the issue "won't be at the top of the list" of priorities when the body meets in April to agree a detailed working programme.

Mr Piebalgs said the group should have an indefinite lifetime. "In my opinion it's a permanent group because 27 member state nuclear authorities will stay forever, so cooperation will be needed". Some environmentalists have argued for a time-limited mandate, fearing the open-ended nature of the group will mean debate on important issues is delayed.

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