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Procedure : 2005/0272(CNS)
Document stages in plenary
Document selected : A6-0174/2006

Texts tabled :

A6-0174/2006

Debates :

PV 04/07/2006 - 17
CRE 04/07/2006 - 17

Votes :

PV 05/07/2006 - 4.4
CRE 05/07/2006 - 4.4
Explanations of votes

Texts adopted :

P6_TA(2006)0300

Verbatim report of proceedings
Tuesday, 4 July 2006 - Strasbourg OJ edition

17. Shipments of radioactive waste and nuclear spent fuel (debate)
Minutes
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  President. The next item is the report (A6-0174/2006) by Mr Seppänen, on behalf of the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy, on the proposal for a Council directive on the supervision and control of shipments of radioactive waste and nuclear spent fuel (COM(2005)0673 C6-0031/2006 2005/0272(CNS)).

 
  
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  Andris Piebalgs, Member of the Commission. Mr President, the proposal that is the subject of Mr Seppänen’s report aims at modifying and replacing Directive 92/3/Euratom, which lays down a Community uniform administrative procedure applicable to the shipment of radioactive waste.

I would first like to recall the aims of this proposal, which are: to ensure consistency with other Community legislation on radiation protection; to ensure consistency with international conventions; to clarify the procedures; to simplify the structure and wording of the existing directive; and to enhance certainty, firstly by explicitly including transfers of spent fuel for re-processing – the same control procedure is now applied to all shipments of spent fuel, independently of the intended use – and secondly by generalising the automatic consent procedure. The consent of Member State of transit and of destination is assumed after a reasonable deadline.

This proposal takes into consideration the experience of application of the existing directive. It further takes fully into account the opinion given by the European Economic and Social Committee on 9 June 2005, as well as the informal discussions held at the Council and in Parliament during 2005.

I would like to thank the rapporteur, Mr Seppänen, for the excellent report he prepared, which has received the strong support of the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy. The amendments mainly seek to clarify the Commission’s proposal, and are therefore welcome.

I am therefore confident that the Council will take duly into consideration the content of Parliament’s opinion, insofar as it might contribute to improving the directive. The Commission will present positively the inclusion in the directive of the amendments in the Seppänen report.

I would like to encourage you to adopt the recommendation submitted by the ITRE Committee, as this represents the best way to promote our common objectives. It enhances certainty with regard to the Community uniform procedure which is applicable to the control of shipments of radioactive waste and nuclear spent fuel.

I look forward to the forthcoming debate.

 
  
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  Esko Seppänen (GUE/NGL), rapporteur. (FI) Mr President, Commissioner, I thank you for your interesting view. This report was adopted by the committee with a very large majority, and I wish to thank the committee members, who tabled many good amendments to the proposal, for their very high levels of cooperation.

During the drafting process, I thought it was important for us to insist that it should be written into Union legislation that each Member State should have the right to ban the importation of nuclear spent fuel for disposal. This principle is written into the IAEA Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive Waste. The European Parliament endorsed the adoption of the Joint Convention at one point, and Euratom is a party to it. Thus there is general acceptance in the Union of the principle that a Member State need not take delivery against its will of spent fuel from other countries for disposal in its own soil.

Although the issue is a straightforward one in principle, in practice it is not. There has been resistance in the Commission to the idea that this right of a Member State should be written into Community legislation. The Commission may well be encumbered by the sort of thinking that proposes that the free movement of goods, written into the Treaty, should also apply to spent fuel for disposal. According to this way of thinking, nuclear spent fuel is just the same as any other good. Because, according to the Community treaties, goods must be allowed to move freely within the Union, the Member States should not be accorded the right in the Union’s primary legislation to ban the importation from other countries of nuclear spent fuel when it is storing its own nuclear spent waste in its own soil. Even in this sector, there would seem to be a craving for free trade.

The members of our committee supported the rapporteur on this. The right of Member States to ban the importation of nuclear spent fuel has now been written into the articles of the directive in Parliament’s report. As it has been written into the articles, the provision is legally binding. If it had merely been written into the preamble, it would not have had the same legal status: it would just be describing political will, without any legal force.

This principle and the entire report were adopted by the committee with such a degree of consensus that the report would not have needed to be opened at all for amendments in plenary. I nevertheless supported the Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance in its request to have a plenary debate on amending the directive. In my opinion, they should make known their reasons why Member States should deal with the disposal of nuclear spent fuel themselves, without allowing radioactive waste or spent fuel to be exported outside the Union for reprocessing or disposal.

I would justify this request with reference to the Union’s expertise in nuclear technology, which is of a high standard, and its strict regulations on safety. I fear that there are lower standards and laxer legislation in possible external recipient countries. If nuclear power is to be used, one is taking huge radioactive risks, and those risks have to be controlled in those countries which produce nuclear energy. Problems that can possibly be solved together within the Union cannot be transferred to third countries outside it. For this reason, I support the many amendments tabled by the Greens, even if there was not enough general sympathy for them on the committee.

 
  
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  Werner Langen, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group. (DE) Mr President, I would like to thank the Commission for its willingness to withdraw the first proposal and to take account in its second one of what was said in the debate in this House, as a consequence of which we have met each other halfway. The same goes for the rapporteur, who was prepared – although he has since become rather less so – to work together with the major groups and the Commission in finding a rational way forward.

The report we now have before us is a sensible one, and it is one to which we can give our support, although we do not think that the amendments tabled by the Greens are worthy of it. Taken as a whole Mr Seppänen’s draft report enjoys the support of the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) and European Democrats, but we will reject the substance of the amendments that were, contrary to our original agreement, resubmitted, and we do so on the basis of Articles 31 and 32 of the Euratom Treaty, which have to do with health and safety. I would like to point out that this is not a codecision procedure, and that we are only to be consulted.

Account has been taken of new considerations, such as, for example, the extended scope for spent fuel rods, disposal and reprocessing or the automatic consent process for the transport of material within the Community and out of it.

We cannot agree to what the Greens have proposed. Amendment 23, in particular, which envisages the requirement for the most extensive information in advance, cannot be seen as anything other than an incitement to widespread demonstrations, and Mrs Harms stressed that they would happen. Having failed to get this sort of thing accepted once before, she has now taken it up again. We would be dealing much more honestly with one another if we were to find common ground on the still open issue of final disposal rather than adopting hardened positions according to which one side of this House is right and the other is getting everything wrong.

I want to express my thanks to Mr Seppänen for his willingness to meet us halfway, and I believe that we can very largely agree to the report in its present form.

 
  
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  Vincenzo Lavarra, on behalf of the PSE Group. – (IT) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, the Commission’s proposal on the directive concerning the control of shipments of radioactive waste is balanced and takes account of many of the suggestions made by Parliament during the debate on the previous proposal.

I commend this attempt to update the previous directive and to clarify it from the procedural and terminological point of view. The inclusion of nuclear spent fuel in the remit of the directive is equally commendable. The Socialist Group in the European Parliament is therefore substantially in agreement with this text and would like to compliment Mr Seppänen on his report and his contribution.

We have requested a separate vote on Amendment 6 because we do not think it possible to exclude the restrictions and controls that are to be found throughout the directive from the legislative provisions of the transit countries’ regulations.

The amendments proposed by the Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance express a concern that we can share. Nevertheless, I think that the Commission’s text – Article 13, to be precise – already sets limits to exports, in particular to those countries that do not have sufficient technical, legal and administrative resources at their disposal to guarantee safe disposal of radioactive waste. We shall therefore vote against the Greens’ amendments.

I also agree with the structure of the proposal and should like to thank the Commission and Mr Seppänen for their work.

 
  
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  Marios Matsakis, on behalf of the ALDE Group. Mr President, I congratulate the rapporteur on the hard work he has put into successfully preparing an excellent report that deals with such a difficult and controversial subject. The amendments submitted in this report undoubtedly significantly improve the Commission’s latest proposal and certainly constitute an important improvement to the original directive on the supervision and control of shipments of radioactive waste.

One of the most noteworthy contributions made by the rapporteur in substantially improving the Commission’s position is his stance in firmly establishing the right of every country to prohibit foreign nuclear spent fuel from being finally stored in repositories in or on its soil. This right is fundamental and paramount.

In my view, only a very small number of somewhat equivocal issues remain as yet unresolved. I shall mention only two such problem areas, which in fact are interrelated. The exact definition of nuclear waste and nuclear spent fuel is still not entirely clear, so that some nuclear waste may, depending on its intended use, sometimes be regarded as nuclear spent fuel and vice versa. This may lead to confusion. In any event, and oddly enough, both of these hazardous materials are still legally speaking considered to be goods so far as EU legislation is concerned. As a consequence of this, a Member State, after receiving only a simple notification, is on occasion obliged to have extremely dangerous consignments travelling through its territory by land, sea or air and subjecting its citizens to the potential perils of a catastrophic nuclear contamination accident. This happens without that state having the right to prevent such shipments from taking place in the first place.

I know that coming up with a solution to this problem and implementing it is not at all easy, but somehow we must find a way whereby Member States can have the last word, after being fully informed, in clearly reasoned decisions to accept or not the transportation of nuclear material – or any other hazardous material for that matter –through their territory.

 
  
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  Rebecca Harms, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. (DE) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I would like, first of all, to thank Mr Seppänen for being so very aware of the problems as regards the market conditions for such a difficult commodity as nuclear waste or spent fuel rods.

I would like, once more, to explain two amendments from my group that are of particular concern to me, namely Amendments 24 and 25, which deal specifically with the export of nuclear waste and spent fuel rods to third countries, and my particular concern is with exports to Russia. Those who make it their business to know about these things will already have heard the names of Mayak or Chelyabinsk, sites in the Urals where, for decades, not only Soviet waste but also, and increasingly, European waste is reprocessed or accepted for storage, and where incidents keep occurring.

It is not only, however, when accidents occur, but also in the normal course of operations, that enormous amounts of radioactivity are discharged, causing serious pollution in the rivers and lakes of the Urals, to a considerably greater extent, moreover, than that seen in some parts of the exclusion zone around Chernobyl. The situation we have ended up in makes dual standards impossible; since such facilities could not be operated in the EU, Europeans should not be sending their waste there for storage, disposal or reprocessing, and it can no longer be really demonstrated that reprocessing – that is, the further recovery of these nuclear materials – is still going on there, since no comprehensible summary whatever of what is reprocessed and reused is available to the public.

If we continue to allow thousands of tonnes of nuclear waste from the European Union to be exported to Russia, then we are taking upon ourselves a responsibility even and ever greater than that which – I emphasise, since it is not only now that the export is starting – we already bear for the lamentably poor state of the environment in the region around Mayak and Chelyabinsk and of the health of the people who live there. I am positively convinced that the responsibility for resolving the problems with nuclear waste should generally be accepted by those countries that dump these problems on the world. It is not Russia that is responsible for our nuclear waste, but rather our own countries themselves.

 
  
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  Kartika Tamara Liotard, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group. – (NL) Mr President, first of all, of course, I must congratulate my group colleague Mr Seppänen on his outstanding report; he is right to stress the primary responsibility that is incumbent on the Member States where the storage or processing of nuclear waste is concerned, and they certainly have one when it comes to refusing to accept waste from outside their own borders. While that is a fundamental right that must under no circumstances be undermined by European regulation, I do believe that national responsibility goes even further, in that those who produce nuclear waste can never shrug off the responsibility for ensuring that it is processed and stored in a proper manner, even if that is done in another country.

The way in which EU Member States now ship their rubbish to such countries as Russia, only for it to be there stored under grossly unsatisfactory conditions, is nothing short of scandalous. Europe’s negligence with nuclear waste makes victims of the local population and of the environment. If countries choose to use such a dangerous and environmentally-unfriendly source of energy as nuclear power, they should be required to clear up their own refuse themselves rather than dumping it on the people of poorer countries outside the EU.

Those who really do want to do something practical to address the problem of nuclear waste in Europe should first give their attention to where it comes from, or else they will simply be fighting a running battle. It is particularly disappointing to see how nuclear power, after a period deservedly spent on the fringes of the energy debate, is now creeping back on to the European agenda, for, being neither environmentally friendly, safe, nor good value, it is not an acceptable alternative, and the problem with waste is a good example of why it is not one.

 
  
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  Kathy Sinnott, on behalf of the IND/DEM Group. Mr President, I should like to say to the Commissioner that when I look at the report, which clearly identifies radioactive waste as deadly, I wonder why we still see nuclear power as an option, even, as I have seen in some new lobbying efforts, passing off nuclear energy as 'green'.

This directive focuses only on Member States which are active participants in the production of nuclear energy and on those that accept the waste. Ireland neither produces nuclear waste nor reprocesses it. We are not factored into this report, yet we need to be protected because we have Sellafield, a British reprocessing plant, very close to our shores.

The Irish Sea – the narrow strip of water that separates us from Sellafield – has, because of Sellafield, become the most radioactive body of water in the world. Sellafield is expanding and preparing to take more and more radioactive waste for reprocessing. Any waste coming from continental Europe will most likely be shipped through the Irish Sea, putting us at additional risk. We in Ireland seem to have no say in this. We are seen as passive bystanders. No one looks for our consent. We are able to reject the fuel, but not to reject the risks when our neighbours accept it. We have, as a country, chosen to remain nuclear-free. That should be respected, both in terms of accepting waste and in terms of the risk of waste being transported through our waters.

In the area of smoking, legislators have come to recognise the significance of passive smoking and have taken measures to defend the people who are near the smoker. We need to recognise the effects and risks of reprocessing, shipment and reshipment on everyone, not just the countries of origin and destination that are making money from the nuclear business.

 
  
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  Alejo Vidal-Quadras (PPE-DE). – (ES) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, I am delighted that, after more than a year and a half in Parliament, Mr Seppänen’s report is finally being voted on in plenary. In committee we have achieved a broad majority consensus on drawing up the amendments necessary to improve the Commission’s proposal, which we believe the Council is prepared to accept.

In particular, I would like to stress the new system for notification and authorisation of shipments of radioactive waste and spent fuel which I believe maximises the use of the automatic consent procedure, which was originally stressed by the European Economic and Social Committee as an essential element for the proper functioning of the internal market.

Furthermore, the amendments voted for in committee fully conform to the proposal’s initial objective, which is to bring the legislation in force into line with the Joint Convention of the International Atomic Energy Agency. To this end, Parliament has insisted on faithfully reproducing the definitions of the Convention, as well as the scope of the directive.

With regard to the amendments presented by Mrs Harms, I would like to make a couple of comments: firstly, that the Convention makes the conditions allowing Member States to export radioactive waste and spent fuel very clear, and secondly, the fact that her insistence that the information on shipments of these substances should be made public largely contradicts her argument in committee when she warned of the danger of those substances falling into untrustworthy hands. I am sure that Mrs Harms appreciates the risk that would be caused by that sensitive information being accessible to everybody.

Mr President, I would like to thank Mr Seppänen for his excellent work and all of the shadow rapporteurs for their own excellent efforts and their cooperation throughout the process and I would like to reiterate my support for the amendments approved in committee. Let us hope that the House is aware that what is to be voted on tomorrow is not a question of ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to nuclear power, but rather a proposal to make the transport of these substances safer.

 
  
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  Justas Vincas Paleckis (PSE). – (LT) I would like to congratulate the draftsman and stress that the directive being debated is important for each country in the European Union, especially those operating nuclear power stations. The Commission's proposals to cooperate in the transportation and burial of nuclear waste or spent nuclear fuel reflect the spirit of EU solidarity and look to the future. On the other hand, there is no doubt that radioactive waste transportation inspections and the advance authorisation system must become stricter.

Having shut down Ignalina nuclear power station's first reactor and with plans to shut down the second in three years’ time, Lithuania faces a storage problem with spent nuclear fuel. At the moment, waste is being buried temporarily in special areas. If it is decided that a new modern nuclear power station should be built at Ignalina with the help of neighbouring countries, the directive being debated would become even more relevant for the entire region.

I would also like to stress the need to encourage scientific research into the neutralisation of nuclear waste. This could also be a priority for the EU’s 7th framework programme for research.

 
  
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  Marie Anne Isler Béguin (Verts/ALE). – (FR) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, France stirred up a wave of indignation when it classified the shipment of radioactive waste as an official secret. It was thus denying local elected representatives and local communities the right to be informed of the fact that trains containing highly dangerous radioactive material were travelling across their land.

As recently as 16 May 2006, a member of French civil society was kept in police custody because he was in possession of an impact study concerning the EPR project's ability to withstand a disaster involving the loss of an airliner also classified as an official secret.

By adopting, with vague words, the French idea that 'information regarding shipments (…) is handled with due care and protected against any misuse’, Parliament’s Committee on Industry, Research and Energy is in fact proposing to institutionalise official secrets at European level.

Is the European Parliament, the all-round world champion in promoting and demanding transparency and democratic control on the international stage, going to go back on what it has said and done and make an exception of the nuclear issue? Our Parliament would lose a great deal of credibility if it were to make obscurantism the rule where highly radioactive waste is concerned.

We know that burying is not the solution when it comes to managing nuclear waste. That is why we reject the plan to build a European nuclear dump in Bure, in my region, or anywhere else. Furthermore, going along with the proposal to delegate the management of nuclear waste to third countries – Ukraine or Russia for instance – is irresponsible. The idea is ethically and morally reprehensible when it comes to nuclear waste which, let us not forget, must be monitored forever.

In the meantime, the acceptable solution – and this is the response that I wish to give to my fellow Members from the Group of the European People's Party (Christian Democrats) and European Democrats - consists in storing the waste within nuclear power stations. That is the only place in which it is secure, and that is without mentioning the fact that this move would stop the process whereby waste is toured the length and breadth of Europe by road or rail.

Finally, the question is: how long will Europeans have to wait for transparency of information to be applied to the nuclear sector?

 
  
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  Romana Jordan Cizelj (PPE-DE). – (SL) Ladies and gentlemen, unless we ensure the stability of our system, adopt clear rules and meet our international commitments in the field of energy, all talk of economic growth, a rise in employment and an increase in the competitiveness of the European Union will not be rooted in solid reality.

Whether we like it or not, the implementation of the Lisbon Strategy objectives is inextricably linked to the question of energy, including nuclear energy. In fact, nuclear energy lies behind a good 30 per cent of the electric power generated by 154 reactors in Europe. When confronted with these figures, the opponents of nuclear energy, and indeed members of the public as well, raise concerns about nuclear waste. The time is now ripe to amend the existing 1992 Directive on the Supervision and Control of Shipments of Radioactive Waste and Nuclear Spent Fuel in line with the development of contemporary society, which is exactly what the Commission proposal does.

Particularly praiseworthy are the simplification of the current Directive, the clear definition of procedures and the definition of the use of languages. Moreover, the rapid development of technology today facilitates the re-use and material recovery of as much as 96 per cent of all highly radioactive waste. For this reason, I support the proposal for the harmonisation of nuclear spent fuel management procedures, regardless of which procedures will be used in the coming period. I firmly believe that this document deserves our support.

Allow me, finally, to express a hope that we will act coherently and constructively and that we will abide by the opinion of the competent Committee on Industry, Research and Energy. I also hope that we will not unnecessarily weigh down the above Directive in the European Parliament with additional text or amendments, making it hard to implement before we have even begun.

 
  
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  András Gyürk (PPE-DE). – (HU) On the subject of health and safety, Articles 31 and 32 of the Euratom Treaty are not only providing a basis for the law in the process of being amended, but they also constitute an obligation for us.

Bearing in mind the health and safety of Europe's citizens, we must keep nuclear legislation up to date. In accepting the Seppänen report, I firmly believe that we are doing enough to meet this obligation we have, and that we are making Directive 92/3/Euratom more effective.

I feel that it is extremely important that the legislation is on the correct middle course, in several respects. First of all, it ensures the close monitoring of radioactive waste and of the spent fuel, which is now being re-processed, without the application of unjustified restrictions and bans. Secondly, it guarantees citizens' safety, without imposing, in exchange, a disproportionate burden on economic operators.

Finally, although the regulation widens the scope of the legislation, it does not break away from the principle of subsidiarity. In other words, although the new legislation provides people with new guarantees, Member States remain responsible for creating regulations specific to national particularities, as well as for ensuring the operation of the authorities that guarantee the enforcement of these regulations. However, the latter also means that apart from jointly refining the legislation providing a stable basis for safety, it is also necessary to ensure the effective operation of the national authorities that constitute this framework, so that every citizen in the European Union can enjoy the greater safety offered by the new directive.

All the above is vitally important for the future of Europe's energy supply too, because we should be aware that the success of this complex operation is also the key to ensuring that people have confidence in nuclear energy.

 
  
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  Paul Rübig (PPE-DE). (DE) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, I would like, first of all, to thank the Commission for taking this initiative, for it is timely that it should give some thought to the essential things in the European Union, among them safety standards and the extreme risks involved in this technology, and that there should be awareness of the fact that the currently existing safety standards differ to the utmost degree and are, in many cases, in need of better monitoring, of, that is to say, what is termed a peer review or of some other means whereby they may be reviewed objectively and transparently.

As I see it, the question arises of what the position is in this area as regards consultation between the Commission, Parliament, and the relevant Member States, or of what is going on as regards the new strategy, according to which the Council’s nuclear working group is, in effect, seizing powers exclusively for itself and treating our other partners in the European decision-making process in a manner that has no place in the present time. We should be trying to establish a balance by taking, right now, responsibility for monitoring and transparency, which are becoming ever more necessary in this extremely sensitive area, rather than waiting for an accident to happen somewhere and only then looking for the responsible or guilty parties.

We should also be taking competition seriously, considering such questions as which costs arise from the removal and disposal of waste and also in connection with the safety and security of transports and the standards according to which these things are done. This is where the European Union needs to act, and I would ask you all, bearing in mind the fact that the Euratom Treaty has been in place for fifty years, to embark upon a serious debate and put issues of safety and transparency centre stage.

 
  
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  Andris Piebalgs, Member of the Commission. Mr President, as today’s debate has shown, there is broad support for the rapporteur’s report. I should like to thank Mr Seppänen again for his excellent report, which has the support of a strong majority in the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy.

Concerning the issue of the prohibition of any export of radioactive waste and spent fuel out of the Community, I would recall Article 13(1)(c) of the proposed directive, which further prohibits exports of radioactive waste and spent fuel to countries that do not possess the necessary administrative and technical capacity for safely managing the spent fuel or radioactive waste. The Commission will issue strict criteria for deciding that.

It is for Member States to decide whether to authorise a shipment to a third country on a case-by-case basis, following strong guidance to be issued by the Commission. That is the answer to the question that arose during the debate.

I strongly believe that we need as much transparency as possible when we deal with energy issues. That also applies to nuclear energy.

 
  
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  President. The debate is closed.

The vote will take place tomorrow at 12.30 p.m.

 
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