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Nuke plants come up short in EU stress tests

'Hundreds of problems' still vex reactors

AFP-JIJI

From missing seismic devices to insufficient emergency systems, Europe’s nuclear power plants face hundreds of problems requiring billions in new investment, a European Union report said Tuesday.

EU-sponsored stress tests conducted on 134 reactors point to myriad potential safety hazards, notably in Britain, France and Spain, the report says. However, it does not go as far as recommending the closure of a single plant.

In the report, the European Commission estimates the cost of improving nuclear safety across the continent on the order of €10 billion to €25 billion ($13 billion to $32 billion), and wants all upgrades to be closely monitored and then finalized by 2015.

The report was to be officially released by Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger on Thursday.

The recommendations, which will be put to EU leaders for approval at an Oct. 18-19 summit, are based on stress tests carried out on the heels of the Fukushima disaster in March 2011.

With 111 European reactors located in built-up areas — where more than 100,000 people live within 30 km of them — “the EU must learn the lessons of Fukushima to further reduce the risk of nuclear incidents in Europe,” the report says.

The 25-page document was drafted with the participation of the 14 EU nations that operate nuclear power plants, as well as Lithuania, Switzerland, Ukraine and Croatia. The tests simulated safety in case of floods, earthquakes and airplane crashes when “normal safety and cooling functions” are shut down. A separate study looking at the risks to a nuclear plant in the event of a terrorist attack is also under way.

On the basis of the stress tests, “practically all nuclear power plants need to undergo improvements as hundreds of technical upgrade measures have been identified,” it said, lamenting that measures agreed to after the accidents at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl were “still pending in some member states.”

It notably cited the case of 10 reactors where on-site seismic instrumentation has yet to be installed. In some 50 others, seismic instruments needed to be upgraded.

The 19 power plants assessed in France, Europe’s largest nuclear nation, were given poor marks on five to seven of those chapters, notably for lacking safety equipment in the case of severe flooding or a large earthquake.

The French plants, however, are equipped with hydrogen “recombiners” to prevent hydrogen explosions. This is not the case in 10 British plants and in five of the six Spanish ones.

The 12 German plants were slammed for failing to fully implement “severe accident management guidelines.”