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European Commission's
Nuclear Package

At the end of April 2002 the EU's Vice-President Loyola de Palacio announced in the European Parliament that the time had come for "common [nuclear] standards and control mechanisms which will guarantee the application of the same criteria and methods in the whole of enlarged Europe".

On 6th November the Commission's college finally discussed and adopted what became known as the 'nuclear package' which encompassed legislation on safety standards, uranium imports and radioactive waste management strategies. At the time of the publication the Commission stated that 'to avoid any difference of treatment between the current Member States and the new Member States, the legal regime will need to be operational on the date of the enlargement of the Union, i.e. 1st January 2004'. However, this is not realistic or necessary and by placing such an arbitrary and unachievable timetable the Commission will totally undermine the the legislation.

A memo 'Towards A Community Approach to Nuclear Safety' which seeks to explain to the public the necessity and requirements of the directives accompanied the launch of the package. However, for whatever reason this memo does not reflect the legislation but rather portrays what might have once been the intention behind the nuclear package but is now no longer required. In particular it should be noted that: -

'This directive will introduce common safety standards': This is not true as the directive will only require the establishment of common safety principals.
'Decommissioning funds set up by operators must be managed separately from their other financial resources': This is not true as operators may under justified circumstances manage their funds.

These errors and other problems proposed by the directives will be discussed in the accompanying text. Furthermore, in January 2003 the Commission published revised versions of the directives, following consultation with the Article 31 expert group. The subsequent drafts, although not substantially reformed do contain important changes that are also discussed in this paper.

The European Commission is attempting in this package to significantly increase the powers of the EU to regulate nuclear facilities. While everyone would like to see measures introduced that would lead to a significant increase in safety standards across the EU, it is important to assess what the changes the proposals will actually require and what impact they will have.

The publication of the original draft of the nuclear package, the legislation concerning the implementation of common nuclear safety principles and the introductions of timetables for the disposal of radioactive waste in November 2002 raised serious concerns in most Member States and large parts of civil society. Since then, the proposals have been redrafted and although there have not been many changes they appear very significant and increase the concerns of many parties.

The Commission have stated that the directive would result in common nuclear safety standards within an enlarged EU. However, this was never the case, but in the November 2002 draft it was stated that this was a framework directive and that other directives, which would set specific safety standards would follow. But in the more recent draft, of January 2003, even this has been removed and it now suggests that there won't be any further directives on safety standards. Consequently, what is left is a directive that requires the introduction of common nuclear safety principles. This will not result in any significant increase in nuclear safety, as all countries in the EU and accession countries that have nuclear power plants are already party to the International Atomic Energy Agency's Nuclear Safety Convention, which has a similar remit. Furthermore, as there will be no surprise inspections to nuclear facilities with the only independent verification being undertaken on the regulators and with the contents of these reports unlikely to be made public, there is little confidence that the new EU regulations will enhance safety.

The proposal to increase transparency and separate the decommissioning and radioactive waste management funds from the utilities is welcomed. However, by effectively making the proposals optional, the whole initiative is undermined. Unless the directive is compulsory for all utilities and is strictly enforced and monitored, then it will fail both to secure funding for future radioactive waste management activities and to reduce market distortions with utilities using decommissioning funds for market acquisitions.

As the Economic and Social Committee note in their opinion, the directive on radioactive waste creates a timetable for the disposal of high-level radioactive waste, which is unrealistic for Member States. Creating a timetable, which reduces the opportunity for, detailed public consultation and careful scientific analysis benefits no one. Despite the clear problems of the proposed dates there are a number of other concerns. Firstly, that the proposal claims that there is close to consensus of the need for deep geological disposal, which there isn't. Secondly, that the directive may encourage the export of waste outside the EU, namely to Russia or other states in the former Soviet Union. Such trade must be banned and the directive must lead the way to ensure that this occurs.

A copy of the Commission's proposal can be accessed here

A critique of the proposals can be found here, which includes copies of the Article 31 Expert Group and that of the Economic and Social Committee.

Between March-November 2003, the Atomic Questions Working Group, of the European Council discussed the draft Directives. This has resulted in considerable alterations to the proposed text. This includes the removal of proposals on specific safety standards and changes on timetables for the operation of radioactives waste disposal sites. A summary of comments from Member States and details of these changes can be accessed here. In addition to proposes in the draft text, three Member States, Finland, Sweden and the UK have taken the unusual step of proposes alternative, non-binding legislation to replace the Diretives. This proposal has subsequently been supported by the Belgium and German Governments. These five countries have sufficient votes, under the qualified majority system applied to Article 31 of the Euratom Treaty, to block the introduction of the Directives. Copies of these two non-binding proposals can be accessed here (safety priniciples and waste).

On 26th November 2003, the COREPER in the European Council discussed both the Directives and non-binding legislative approach.