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EU ministers seek highest nuclear safety standards

In light of the nuclear crisis in Japan, European ministers have agreed that the EU needs the highest nuclear safety standards. Their opinions differ on how to achieve this.

A man in a hazmat suit in front of a radioactivity sign

EU stress tests are to be carried out by the end of the year

European Union energy and economics ministers on Monday agreed to take steps to ensure that nuclear facilities in member states meet the highest safety standards.

"All of the ministers are in favor of common European security standards," European Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger said.

The criteria for nuclear "stress tests" proposed by Oettinger last week were to include assessments of the risk of earthquakes or flooding, reactor cooling systems and emergency power supplies. Also to be considered were possible man-made threats such as terrorism or cyber-attacks.

But the details of how the stress tests are to be carried out still have to be worked out, and there is a wide divergence of opinion on how any future EU standards should be implemented.

Participation in the nuclear stress tests is to be voluntary, after a number of countries, including Britain, opposed the strict, binding measures favored by Germany.

There is also no agreement on whether penalties would be imposed for nuclear reactors that failed the tests, which are to be carried out by the end of 2011.

The nuclear power plant at Biblis

Germany's nuclear plants are undergoing inspections

Details to be worked out

"We are working on that right now. We don't have a specific technical answer to that right now," Hungarian Energy Minister Tamas Fellegi said.

Fellegi, whose country holds the bloc's rotating presidency, said the talks had not been meant to reach a decision, but simply to discuss member states' positions ahead of an EU summit later this week.

The EU's power to impose standards is limited by the fact that nuclear safety standards lie not with the bloc, but fall under the jurisdiction of its 27 member states. The possibility of shifting responsibility for nuclear safety to the EU was not discussed on Monday.

Author: Chuck Penfold (dpa, AP, AFP)
Editor: Nancy Isenson

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