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Europe

Nuclear Leak Sparks Renewed EU Concern

In the wake of a radioactive leak at the Sellafield nuclear plant in England, the European Union is pushing for tougher EU safety standards.

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Part of Britain's Sellafield nuclear site was shut down after the leak

The European Commission is trying to introduce new legislation that would create unified safety standards at nuclear plants throughout the 25-member bloc.

Now, news of a radioactive leak at the Sellafield reprocessing plant in northwestern England has lent the commission's arguments more strength.

Enough nuclear waste "to half-fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool" leaked from a cracked pipe at the plant, according to a report in British daily The Guardian. The fluid, a uranium and plutonium fuel in concentrated nitric acid seeping from a broken pipe into a steel chamber is so dangerously radioactive that special robots may have to be built to clean up the mess, officials said.

The lead occured on April 18, causing part of the Sellafield facility to be shut down two days later. But the news only hit headlines this week, leading the EU to renew calls for unified safety legislation.

"The recent Sellafield incident shows once more that the EU should be allowed overall framework control for the safety of nuclear installations," Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs said in a statement. "It is not possible to continue to function efficiently in relation to the varying national legislation in force. In an area as sensitive as nuclear energy, it is essential to show the greatest form of transparency."

Running afoul of the EU

Atomkraftwerk, Flamanville, Frankreich

Nuclear power plant in France. Atomic energy is still popular in Europe.

It isn't the first time that Sellafield has provoked the EU. Last year, EU commissioners threatened legal action after Britain refused to give EU inspectors access to the entire reprocessing plant.

Former EU Energy Commissioner Loyola de Palacio had pushed for unified and tougher safety standards but amended the commission's controversial proposals. The revised rules would require members to create plans for dealing with radioactive waste, though a commission-imposed deadline for those plans was dropped after opposition from England and Germany.

Germany, meanwhile, decided to close a second atomic reactor as part of a government plan to phase out nuclear power altogether. The reactor, in Obrigheim in southern Germany, is the oldest one in Germany and was in operation for 37 years.

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