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Europe

Fukushima leak prompts EU plan for nuclear 'stress tests'

EU leaders have agreed to conduct tests to see if nuclear power plants could withstand scenarios such as a natural disaster or terrorist attack. But not everyone is agreed on how tough the standards should be.

A nuclear symbol on a rusting barrel

Fukushima has further tarnished nuclear power's image

EU leaders have decided to go ahead with 'stress tests' on member states' nuclear power plants in response to the Fukushima nuclear leak in Japan.

The meltdown that resulted from the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and the tsunami that came in its wake, has prompted countries around the world to debate the safety of nuclear power.

Smoke rises from the Fukushima plant

The nuclear leak at Fukushima prompted worldwide debate

"We therefore decided that the safety of nuclear plants should be urgently reviewed, in the so-called 'stress-tests'," said European Council President Herman Van Rompuy on Friday, at the end of a two-day summit of leaders in Brussels. Countries bordering the EU, such as Belarus and Ukraine, will also be encouraged to carry out the tests.

"We encourage and support neighboring countries to do similar stress-tests. A worldwide review of nuclear plants would be best," Van Rompuy said.

Among the hypothetical situations to be examined in the tests are the effects of natural disasters such as earthquakes and flooding. The tests would go further, to examine how nuclear safety at each plant would fare in the event of a terrorist incident or cyber attack.

EU members have yet to agree on just how tough the tests should be, with Germany calling for rigorous standards to be applied in all member states.

How tough is too tough?

"It is not enough to handle the safety of nuclear power plants at national level. It also has to be at European and international levels," German Chancellor Angela Merkel said following the meeting.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel

Merkel says strict and binding rules are needed

However, countries such as Britain and Finland have voiced skepticism about the need for common, binding, European rules.

Meanwhile, France - where most electricity is generated by nuclear power - has said that it will close any reactors that do not meet the standards.

"All the tests will be conducted in France, all the results will be published and if the tests are not passed, we will immediately take the consequences, and the only consequence would be closure," French President Nicolas Sarkozy said after the summit.

Of the 27 countries in the EU, 14 produce nuclear energy with 143 power plants in operation in total.

Following the Fukushima leak, the government in Germany - which produces just under a quarter of its electricity from nuclear power - ordered the closure of the seven oldest out of 17 nuclear power plants in the country.

Efforts were continuing in Japan to stabilize reactors at the damaged site on Friday, with Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan saying the situation was "nowhere near the point" of being resolved.

Author: Richard Connor (AFP, dpa, Reuters)
Editor: Nicole Goebel

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