Europe atomic stress tests a charade

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

Stress tests being carried out on European nuclear power plants are a political charade designed to reassure the public that the reactors are fundamentally safe, a member of the European Parliament and a prominent Bulgarian atomic expert said Monday at a seminar in Osaka.

Rebecca Harms, president of the Green Group in the European Parliament, and Gueorgui Kastchiev, a senior nuclear physicist at the Vienna-based University of Natural Resources, said a warning about this practice is needed in Japan, where many of those attending were from towns in Fukui and Niigata prefectures that host nuclear plants. These facilities are also currently undergoing stress tests, they noted.

“The stress tests in Europe are somewhat similar to the virtual stress tests for European banks that were implemented after the euro crisis. But Europe’s politicians decided to make stress tests for real facilities,” said Kastchiev, who was formerly head of the Bulgarian Nuclear Safety Authority.

There are 143 reactors in the European Union that have been targeted for stress tests. There is no central nuclear regulator within the EU, so national regulators in each country have appointed their own experts to carry out the tests, he said.

Kastchiev said the decision was made to test for extreme natural events only and that the tests should be on a voluntary basis because there is no way to punish plant operators.