Bloomberg News

EU Nuclear Stress Tests Create Confusion, French Regulator Says

June 01, 2011

June 1 (Bloomberg) -- The European Commission has “sowed confusion” over what will be included in safety checks of nuclear installations by including the risks of airplane crashes and explosions, according to France’s atomic watchdog.

France, which has more nuclear reactors than any other European country, will push ahead with so-called stress tests that exclude those risks while evaluating dangers from earthquakes and flooding, Andre-Claude Lacoste, head of the Autorite de Surete Nucleaire, said in an interview yesterday.

“What we asked of French operators will at the same time serve as an application of European stress tests,” he said following a parliamentary hearing in Paris. “The commissioner has sowed confusion. Planes aren’t included in the stress tests.”

The parameters for safety checks of Europe’s 143 atomic plants were a source of friction between member countries and regulators after governments called for the tests following a disaster at Japan’s Fukushima plant triggered by an earthquake and tsunami. European Union Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger announced May 25 that the tests will include crashes and explosions.

Any differences are down to “minor details,” Lacoste said, adding that the French stress tests will be based on what was agreed by the European Commission and European Nuclear Safety Regulators Group on May 13.

Terrorist Threats

“Loss of power and cooling could be the consequences of terrorist acts indirectly but clearly aircraft crashes should come under security threats and these will be dealt with separately,” he said.

The European Commission, in a statement May 25, said the tests will evaluate whether reactors can withstand natural disasters as well as plane crashes, explosions and “comparable damaging effects from terrorist attacks.” Preventive measures against terrorism will be dealt with separately with the assistance from national security officials, according to the EU regulatory arm.

“Commissioner Oettinger communicated alone on this and created confusion,” Lacoste said. “There was agreement to a text and that is what counts. He took this and added personal comments.”

The French approach is broader than Europe’s because it includes reactors along with associated sites, including waste storage and treatment centers operated by Areva SA, notably at La Hague, Lacoste said. The ASN will also examine sub- contracting within the industry.

“We have a huge amount of work to do in a short time,” he said. “We are asking new questions. Fukushima was a shock. We’ll play the game as honestly as possible.”

--Editors: Alex Devine, Torrey Clark

To contact the reporters on this story: Tara Patel in Paris at Tpatel2@bloomberg.net;

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Will Kennedy at wkennedy3@bloomberg.net.


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