The safety of nuclear energy production in the EU is the primary responsibility of power plant operators supervised by independent national regulators. An EU-wide approach to nuclear safety is important because a nuclear accident could have negative consequences for countries across Europe and beyond.
Nuclear safety rules
On the basis of nuclear stress tests carried out in 2011 and 2012, the lessons learned from the Fukushima nuclear accident and the safety requirements of the Western European Nuclear Regulators Association and the International Atomic Energy Agency, the EU amended its Nuclear Safety Directive in 2014.
The amended Directive requires EU countries to give highest priority to nuclear safety at all stages of the lifecycle of a nuclear power plant. This includes carrying out safety assessments before the construction of new nuclear power plants and ensuring significant safety enhancements for old reactors. Specifically, the Directive:
- strengthens the role of national regulatory authorities by ensuring their independence from national governments. EU countries must provide the regulators with sufficient legal powers, staff, and financial resources
- creates a system of peer reviews. EU countries choose a common nuclear safety topic every six years and organise a national safety assessment on it. They then submit their assessment to other countries for review. The findings of these peer reviews are made public
- requires a safety re-evaluation for all nuclear power plants to be conducted at least once every 10 years
- increases transparency by requiring operators of nuclear power plants to release information to the public, both in times of normal operation and in case of incidents.
In 2015 the European Commission published a report on the progress made in EU countries on implementing the Nuclear Safety Directive. Overall, the report found a good level of compliance with the rules. The next national reports will be submitted in 2020.
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The EU cooperates with non-EU countries and international organisations on nuclear safety. In 2013, the European Commission signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to further cooperation, including on expert peer reviews and strengthening emergency preparedness and response.