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EU nuclear report

Gero Rueter / alMarch 7, 2014

In a new report, Greenpeace is demanding immediate action to protect the bloc's citizens from a rising risk of nuclear accidents. The environmental NGO has found out that many nuclear power plants in Europe are too old.

Greenpeace protests at a nuclear power plant in Brussels
Image: Philip Reynaers/Greenpeace

Environmental organization Greenpeace says that the risk of a nuclear accident in Europe is on the rise. A new 146 page report, commissioned by the organization, finds that risk levels in Europe's nuclear facilities are rising due to various reasons. The document cites the ongoing use of nuclear power plants beyond their original used-by date, as well as increased power demands in the bloc, as the main problems.

Currently in the European Union, Switzerland and the Ukraine there are 151 nuclear power plants in operation. Of those, 66 were built over 30 years ago and 25 of them were built over 35 years ago.

"If you consider that most of the reactors were planned to run for 30 years, then it's clear that many of them are now exceeding their life span," explains Greenpeace nuclear expert Tobias Riedel.

The problem with old power plants is not just that the component parts are getting more worn, say the experts. It's also because of the lower technical and security requirements of the older power plants. These days, safety requirements at new nuclear power stations are simply higher.

Older nuclear power plants are not equipped to deal with flood waters, earthquakes or plane crashes on site says nuclear expert Simone Mohr from the Öko-Institut in Darmstadt, who co-authored the report for Greenpeace.

Greenpeace protests at a nuclear power plant in Beznau
Greenpeace protests at a nuclear power plant in Beznau, SwitzerlandImage: Greenpeace/Ex-Press/Michael Würtenberg

Future challenges

For nuclear industry expert Mycle Schneider, who writes the "World Nuclear Industry Status Report" each year, there are other problems on the horizon too, like a lack of qualified young technicians in Europe's nuclear power stations.

The world's largest nuclear power station company EDF, for instance, "will need to replace around half of its personnel in the next five years," says Schneider. He says that in emergency situations this loss of knowledge could be deadly.

According to Greenpeace, neither politicians nor national or international nuclear agencies are doing enough to tackle the safety concerns. Not just for that reason, the report's authors recommend that operators and suppliers of Europe's nuclear plants should be liable for their facilities in the event of an accident, rather than the authorities or the taxpayer.

Make plant owners liable

That would destroy the artificial competitive advantage that nuclear power has on the energy market, they say, and it would give the operating companies a business incentive to avoid a nuclear accident. In order to keep safety risks as low as possible, the authors of the new study suggest a combined liability system for all of Europe's nuclear power companies.

Greenpeace's report demands immediate closure of nuclear reactors that have been running longer than their planned life span. This should be combined with a quick move towards renewable energy sources in the bloc too, it says. Furthermore, there should be more transparency and public participation in any nuclear power decision-making process.

At the same time as Greenpeace's findings, BUND, the German branch of Friends of the Earth, has released a related report. According to the authors of that study, Europe can turn off nuclear power by 2030 completely and still meet its planned climate protection goals. Until now, supporters of nuclear power have argued that it would have to play a part in Europe's future energy mix due to its low carbon emissions, in comparison to fossil fuel energy sources.