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Wednesday, 6 November, 2002, 23:31 GMT
EU seeks tighter nuclear rules
Bulgaria's Kozloduy nuclear power plant
New EU members have Soviet-designed reactors

The European Commission has proposed new rules giving it unprecedented powers to supervise the safety of nuclear installations.

The aim is to have binding safety standards throughout Europe after 10 more countries join the EU, which between them have 20 Soviet-designed nuclear reactors.

EU flags
Ten more countries are due to join the EU
But the proposals are strongly opposed by big producers of nuclear energy, mainly Britain and France.

Under the proposal, each EU country would have to set up an independent nuclear safety authority.

The commission would monitor how they work - basically inspecting the inspectors - but would have no powers to conduct on-the-spot checks at nuclear power plants.

It would also set a timetable for burying nuclear waste by 2018 and ensure enough money for decommissioning ageing reactors.

The commission says nuclear safety should become a priority as 10 central and eastern European countries prepare to join the EU from 2004.

As a condition for membership, Slovakia, Lithuania and Bulgaria have promised to close down unsafe reactors and the Czech Republic has upgraded its nuclear facilities.

Post-membership risk

But EU officials argue that once these countries join the union there is nothing to stop them from going back on their promises, simply because there are no common rules across Europe.

Britain and France, which are big producers of nuclear energy, want to keep it that way.

British officials say that the guidelines set by the International Atomic Energy Agency are more than enough, even though they are not legally binding.

And the commission's proposals may be too weak to satisfy countries like Austria and Germany, which have either renounced nuclear power altogether or are in the process of doing so.

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09 Jul 02 | Europe
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