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Strasbourg Plenary 4-7 April: nuclear, immigration, economic governance

Nuclear energy debate: EU plants should undergo stress tests; MEPs reject resolution

  • MEPs reject resolution on nuclear safety
  • Divisions between the groups
European Council representative Enikő Győri, EPP Corien Wortmann-Kool, S&D Marita Ulvskog, ALDE Lena Ek, Verts Rebecca Harms, ECR Giles Chichester, GUE Sabine Wils, EFD Niki Tzavela, Commissioner Günther Oettinger   Agreement on need for stress tests

In the wake of the recent events in Japan, MEPs discussed the lessons to be learnt for nuclear safety in Europe Wednesday afternoon. There was agreement on the need to conduct stress tests at EU plants, but some groups criticised the voluntary and national approach proposed by the Commission. Some members held up anti-nuclear posters at the start of the debate to protest against the use of nuclear energy in the EU. On Thursday MEPs rejected a resolution on nuclear safety because of disagreements between the political groups.

For the Council, Hungarian Secretary of State for EU Affairs Enikő Győri said legislation will be also reviewed in the light of stress tests (comprehensive risk and safety assessments), the results of which should be available before the end of the year. Other alternatives will be considered but "the 14 Member States who have opted for nuclear power cannot shut down their nuclear plants", she said.

Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger said the Commission is "currently drafting a list of criteria (for the stress tests) that will be sent to the EP and made public" by the end of May. The tests will assess if nuclear plants can withstand disasters or attacks. "National regulators will be carrying out tests". It's currently not possible to make such decisions on nuclear power at an EU level, he said.

Dutch EPP member Corien Wortmann-Kool said the situation in Japan "shows us we need to change or revise the regulations in place" and the need to introduce common criteria for nuclear tests for all European plants. She said the EU should set the highest possible standards of safety and if any the plant doesn't pass the tests, they must be decommissioned.

Swedish Socialist Marita Ulvskog said, "It is a global problem that has no borders...We have to overcome differences of view and take decisions together. We obviously need the nuclear energy supplied and can't move on immediately, but we need to find possible alternatives. A new era of sustainability has to start."

Swedish Liberal Lena Ek criticised the tress tests as "too weak". She said they should be mandatory and conducted by "independent experts". German Green Rebecca Harms also had concerns that the stress tests would be "suspicious", because national authorities will be responsible. "It's a club, all of these people have known each other for decades and they have always tolerated the highest risks".

However, British Conservative Giles Chichester said, "there is a world of difference between the 15 year-old reactors in Japan and the modern ones in Europe, and a world of difference in seismic risk...A nuclear moratorium would mean acting without evidence. We need to analyse the situation, not to act in haste".

Sabine Wils a German member of the GUE/NGL group said many people have demonstrated to shut down nuclear plants and in favour of renewables. "We knew the risks even before Fukushima". And Greek EFD member Niki Tzavela warned, "we are entering a new era of mega disasters". She called for companies to be accountable. She spoke about the importance of ensuring companies be accountable. Companies which are not transparent and don't exercise due precautions are committing "crimes against society".

MEPs divided over the future of nuclear energy in Europe

On Thursday, MEPs rejected a resolution on nuclear safety in Europe by 264 votes in favour, 300 against and 61 abstentions.

There were various points of disagreement between political groups, which in the end led to a majority rejecting the final text.