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Brussels, 30 January 2003

Nuclear energy: the Commission proposes a Community approach to the safety of facilities and waste

The Commission today adopted two proposals for Directives designed to pave the way for a Community approach to the safety of nuclear power plants and the processing of radioactive waste. These proposals for Directives, announced in the Commission Communication of 6 November 2002(1), were endorsed by the Nuclear Experts Committee chaired by Professor J. R. McAulay, which, in accordance with the Euratom Treaty,(2) must examine any legislative proposal in this area. "While we can be proud of having an excellent level of nuclear safety in the EU, the shortcomings in nuclear legislation, in the run-up to enlargement, need to be overcome", stated Loyola de Palacio, Vice-President in charge of energy and transport. These proposals for Directives are being adopted at a time when the Court of Justice(3) recently confirmed the Community's legislative powers with regard to the safety of nuclear facilities.

The Court of Justice of the European Communities confirmed in its Judgment of 10 December 2002 in Case C-29/99 that the technical competence of the national authorities with responsibility for safety does not preclude the Community from legislating in this connection.

The measures adopted today translate into draft proposals for Directives the guidelines approved by the Commission in its Communication of 6 November 2002 and take into account the opinion of the Nuclear Experts Committee.

The two proposals for Directives can be summarised as follows:

    Proposal for a Directive setting out basic obligations and general principles on the safety of nuclear installations from design to decommissioning. The draft Directive proposes common safety standards and verification mechanisms to guarantee the application of common methods and criteria with regard to nuclear safety throughout the enlarged EU. These standards will be based on those of the Vienna-based IAEA(4) but the establishment of supplementary standards is not ruled out, where appropriate. Each Member State will have a safety authority which must operate independently.  The common reference framework for the safety standards will be based on principles internationally recognised by the IAEA and will give them the force of law. This approach will have the advantage of ensuring a binding Community framework, and a single criterion for monitoring and interpretation. Community monitoring will be aimed at verifying the way in which the safety authorities carry out their tasks. The proposed approach is based on the principle of peer review. The purpose of the inspections is not to verify in situ the conditions regarding the safety of nuclear facilities but rather to verify the effective implementation of national safeguards. The coordination of the national systems in a Community framework is a guarantee of the maintenance of a high level of safety in nuclear facilities.  Nuclear safety cannot be guaranteed without making available adequate financial resources, With regard, in particular, to the decommissioning of nuclear facilities, the Directive defines the Community rules for the establishment, management and use of decommissioning funds allocated to a body with legal personality separate from that of the nuclear operator. This fund must be able to guarantee the availability and sufficiency of resources so that the decommissioning operations can be carried out in conditions which protect the general public and the environment from ionising radiation.

    A Directive on radioactive waste which will contribute to a clear, transparent answer and within a reasonable deadline to the management of radioactive waste. For half a century; radioactive waste has been stored in intermediate storage facilities. The proposal advocates the geological disposal of high-activity waste - the safest technique given the state of the art. The proposal for a Directive requires the Member States to adopt, according to a pre-established timetable, national programmes for the disposal of radioactive waste, comprising in particular the deep disposal of high-activity waste. As far as the latter is concerned, the choice of the disposal site (national or regional) will need to be taken by 2008 at the latest and should be operational by 2018 at the latest. For low-activity and short-lived waste, disposal should be achieved by 2013 at the latest. The major contribution of this proposal is to get the Member States to adopt a strategy with regard to the management of spent nuclear fuel and radioactive waste. Cooperation solutions between Member States are envisaged, but no Member State is required to accept imports of radioactive waste from other Member States.  The Commission notes that the funds allocated to research into waste management are inadequate despite the efforts of the research framework programme. The proposal for a Directive is aimed at supporting and developing the research effort and better coordinating the national research programmes. At a later stage, the Commission intends to propose, in agreement with the industries concerned and the Member States, the creation of a Joint Undertaking, in accordance with Chapter 5 of the Euratom Treaty, responsible for managing and directing research funds from the Joint Research Centre, the Member States and enterprises for the management of radioactive waste.

    (1)COM(2002)606. Further information is available in the press release HYPERLINK "|0|RAPID&lg=EN&display="|0|RAPID&lg=EN&display=

    (2)Article 31 of the Euratom Treaty reads as follows: "The basic standards shall be worked out by the Commission after it has obtained the opinion of a group of persons appointed by the Scientific and Technical Committee from among scientific experts, and in particular public health experts, in the Member States. The Commission shall obtain the opinion of the Economic and Social Committee on these basic standards. After consulting the European Parliament, the Council shall, on a proposal from the Commission, which shall forward to it the opinions obtained from these Committees, establish the basic standards". Article 32 of the Euratom Treaty reads as follows:"At the request of the Commission or of a Member State, the basic standards may be revised or supplemented in accordance with the procedure laid down in Article 31. The Commission shall examine any request made by a Member State.

    (3)Judgment of the Court in Case C-29/99. HYPERLINK ""

    (4)International Atomic Energy Agency.

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