In Rome in 1957 the founding Member States of the EU signed two treaties. The first was the Treaty establishing the European Economic Community that has evolved into the European Union of today. The second ‘Treaty of Rome’ established a European Atomic Energy Community – better known as Euratom. As well as contributing to the development of nuclear power as an energy source in the Member States, the Euratom Treaty also seeks to ensure high levels of protection for workers and the general public through sharing experience and information and promoting research into nuclear safety. Euratom forms the basis of many EU activities related to the nuclear power cycle as well as of other activities which use radioactive substances for research, industrial and medical purposes. These include research, the drawing-up of safety standards, and the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. EU Member States also interact with Euratom research activities through the EU Framework Programmes for Research and Technological Development, for example the FP7 work on Fusion Energy Research and Nuclear Fission and Radiation Protection. FP7 also covers nuclear research by the EC’s Joint Research Centre . More on Euratom
EU legislation in the field of nuclear safety
The EU also supports nuclear safety and the protection of the public through legislation contained in a series of Directives. Across the EU, the Basic Safety Standards Directive sets out standards for radiation protection in the Member States. The overall objective of radiation protection is to protect the health of exposed workers and members of the public against the dangers arising from ionising radiation, resulting from practices using radiation or radioactive substances including the nuclear fuel cycle. The Directive sets limits on the maximum radiation dose that anyone should receive under normal conditions. These limits are based on international studies on the effects of radiation and are set at levels to minimise harmful effects. In addition to keeping doses below these limits, nuclear facilities and radioactive waste sites must work to keep any radiation doses received by the public and its workers as low as reasonably achievable. The Basic Safety Standards Directive is supplemented by five other specific Directives dealing with the following:
- Medical Exposures: This Directive sets out the general principles of the health protection of people against the dangers of ionising radiation from medical exposures – for example in radiotherapy.
- Public Information: This Directive sets out requirements for informing the general public about health protection measures to be applied and steps to be taken in the event of a radiological emergency.
- Outside workers: This Directive covers the operational protection of outside workers exposed to the risk of ionising radiation. For example the employees of an independent builder undertaking work on the site of a nuclear installation.
- Shipments of radioactive waste and spent fuel: This Directive covers shipments of radioactive waste and spent fuel. The EU operates a system of prior authorisation for all shipments of radioactive waste in order to provide greater radiation protection.
- Control of high-activity sealed radioactive sources and orphan sources: This Directive aims to prevent exposure to ionising radiation arising from inadequate control of high-activity sealed radioactive sources and to harmonise controls in the EU Member States.
Is there an EU directive on safety in nuclear power installations?
Worldwide, nuclear safety is governed by national legislation and the International Conventions. Within the EU this is being supplemented by an EU Directive. The Nuclear Safety Directive, adopted by the Council of the European Union on 25 June 2009, provides binding legal force to the main international nuclear safety standards. The content of the Directive takes into account expert input from ENSREG as well as the Euratom Scientific Expert Group that advises the European Commission. The Directive requires Member States in particular to set up and continuously improve national nuclear safety frameworks. The Directive enhances the role and independence of national regulatory authorities, ENSREG’s members, and confirms to licence holders – such as nuclear power plant operators – their prime responsibility for nuclear safety. Member States are required to encourage a high level of transparency of regulatory actions and to guarantee regular independent safety assessments.
EU international assistance work on nuclear safety
The European Union has for many years provided financial and human resources to help improve nuclear safety in countries outside the EU. This focused mainly on the countries of Central and Eastern Europe and on the Former Soviet Union. The TACIS instrument that facilitated assistance to the former Soviet Union and the PHARE nuclear safety programme, which included many countries which are now EU member states, came to an end in 2006 although some residual work is still underway. TACIS has since been replaced by the Instrument for Nuclear Safety Co-operation . This instrument finances measures to promote high levels of nuclear safety in third countries. It is not restricted to the former Soviet Union. This work is supported by the Regulatory Assistance Management Group (RAMG) which brings together EU regulatory bodies, including members of ENSREG, to assist the Commission in defining regulatory components of the nuclear and radiation safety needs of potential beneficiary countries.
Other groups that contribute to EU nuclear safety initiatives include:
Eurosafe is a global and European initiative aimed at the convergence of nuclear safety practices in Europe. It pools the ideas of various European safety organisations and communicates these to a wide audience.
The European Nuclear Energy Forum (ENEF) is a platform for a broad discussion, on transparency issues as well as the opportunities and risks of nuclear energy. ENEF gathers all relevant stakeholders in the nuclear field: governments of the EU Member States, European Institutions including the European Parliament and the European Economic and Social Committee, nuclear industry, electricity consumers and the civil society.
The Western European Nuclear Regulators Association (WENRA) is not an EU Body. It was established in 1999 by Western European States (including Switzerland) that operate Nuclear Power Plants to develop a common approach to nuclear safety and regulation. In 2003 the new and applicant members of the EU from Central and Eastern Europe and in 2009, non-nuclear EU countries were invited to observe WENRA plenary and working group meetings. Two WENRA subgroups are working on harmonisation using IAEA Standards as a basis for their work. The first group has produced WENRA for reactors and is considering safety objectives for potential new Nuclear Power Plants. The second group has produced WENRA reference levels for storage and decommissioning, and is currently developing reference levels for radioactive disposal.