Member states beef up safety rules amid growing nuclear power market

Member states beef up safety rules amid growing nuclear power market

EU countries today (June 19) approved changes to rules on the use and transit of nuclear materials with a view to increasing safety as reliance on nuclear energy is set to grow within the coming decades, three EU diplomats told Euronews.

The approved changes were made by ambassadors meeting behind closed doors to review Euratom treaty provisions. The provisions by member states will now be sent to the Commission for final sign off.

Discussions revolved mainly around the level of inspections of nuclear installations, the European Commission’s role as a watchdog and on ensuring nuclear materials will be used solely for power generation across the bloc, since nuclear became legally recognised in the EU as a low-carbon energy fit for the energy transition.

Development of nuclear energy has been given impetus following the pledge by world leaders — including Bulgaria, Croatia, Czechia, Finland, France, Hungary the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Sweden — at COP28 in November to triple nuclear power capacity by 2050, alongside political will expressed by the EU executive in Brussels to boost the sector.

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The legislative revision, proposed by the Commission in December 2023 under the Euratom Treaty, is mostly targeted at operators of nuclear materials and sets out how risk avoidance declarations must be filed to the EU executive for verification. Operators would also need to share information at the earliest possible stage of nuclear facility’s life cycle, after significant modifications or at different stages of decommissioning, under the new updated law on the Euratom safeguards.

“The operation of nuclear facilities with the highest guarantees of safety, accountability, and traceability, in strict compliance with international and European regulations, is a priority for us,” an EU diplomat said, welcoming new provisions reflecting “technological advances made in the nuclear sector and digitisation since 2005”.

But a second diplomat said the new rules would be "too cumbersome for operators to implement”.

No countries opposed the safety measures, a third EU diplomat said, adding that a number were keen to track the Commission’s inspection powers to make sure that assessments are thorough and don’t jeopardise the safety of neighbouring countries.

Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson has recently hailed the potential of nuclear, saying renewable power, including atomic energy, is projected to cover over 90% of the EU's electricity consumption in 2040. Simson talked on the sidelines of the kick-off general assembly of the industrial alliance of small modular reactors — a developing nuclear-based technology deemed fit by the EU to contribute to the bloc’s decarbonisation efforts by 2030.

Meanwhile environmental NGO Greenpeace has reproached the European Investment Bank’s (EIB) role in financing nuclear power activities, saying it has invested €845 million in nuclear power activities over the past 20 years. Ahead of an EIB strategic roadmap due for adoption on Friday (21 June), the green NGO asked the European bank “to oppose any funding for nuclear energy, including small modular reactors”, citing safety risks and radioactive waste concerns.