Europe’s nuclear reactor safety tests leave many unanswered questions

europes-nuclear-reactor-safety-tests-leave-many-unanswered-questions

The European Commission ordered that all nuclear reactors in Europe undergo ‘stress tests’ to identify nuclear reactor safety concerns.  The European Council of 24/25 March, 2011, requested that the safety of all EU nuclear plants should be reviewed, on the basis of a comprehensive and transparent risk and safety assessment (“stress tests”). These “stress tests” are defined as targeted reassessments of the safety margins of nuclear power plants, developed by ENSREG, including the European Commission.

They have provided test results that should be a worry for people throughout Europe. Some test results have been released, and they show alarming gaps in whether reactors in Europe can withstand emergencies such as earthquakes, floods, terrorist attacks, and the loss of power and cooling.

GreenPeace International built an interactive map showing how the reactors measured up to the stress tests. If you live in Europe you can check out nuclear reactors near where you live. None of the tests inspire confidence that the nuclear industry and regulators have made the safety of Europe’s citizens a top priority. We wonder if some of these reactors would be able to stand up to rigorous, independent testing.

 

The quality of the stress test results varies wildly from country to country. Those with largely independent nuclear regulators performed more rigorous tests. Others, such as the Czech Republic, Sweden and the United Kingdom, have failed to publish proper information. The Czech Republic’s report was just seven pages long despite the country having six nuclear reactors. In sharp contrast, Slovenia provided a 177-page report on its one reactor.

Right now, several nuclear regulators have failed to publish the results from plant operators, despite a deadline from the European Nuclear Safety Regulators Group of October 31.

Despite promises, the possibility of the failure of multiple reactors (as happened at Fukushima in March) has not been examined. The risks of a large airplane crash have been largely ignored, probably because no reactor in Europe could withstand a terrorist attack like those we saw on September 11, 2001. Europe’s fleet of nuclear reactors is rapidly ageing but their age has not been properly considered.

These results do nothing to address concerns about reactor safety at a time when publicopinion of nuclear power is at an all-time low, following the Fukushima disaster. Human error, technical problems, natural disasters or terrorist attack, mean that even the newest and most sophisticated nuclear reactors can be vulnerable to the accidents we’ve seen at Chernobyl and Fukushima. That’s why a complete move away from nuclear power to safe and clean renewable energy sources and energy efficiency programmes is essential.

The European Commission is now supposed to prepare an interim report for the meeting of EU energy ministers in early December. As a matter of urgency, the commission should go back to these nuclear watchdogs and demand thorough and proper testing so that the ministers have the proper information. (GreenPeace)

Country

in operation

under construction

number

net capacity MWe

number

net capacity MWe

Belgium

7

5,927

Bulgaria

2

1,906

2

1.906

Czech Repuplic

6

3,678

Finland

4

2,716

1

1,600

France

58

63,130

1

1,600

Germany

9

12,068

Hungary

4

1,889

Netherlands

1

487

Romania

2

1,300

Russian Federation

32

22,693

11

9,153

Slovakian Republic

4

1,816

2

782

Slovenia

1

688

Spain

8

7,567

Sweden

10

9,298

Switzerland

5

3,263

Ukraine

15

13,107

2

1,900

United Kingdom

19

10,137

total

187

161,665

19

16,941

Nuclear power plants in Europe, in operation and under construction, as of August 7, 2011

As of August 2011 there is a total of 187 nuclear power plant units with an installed electric net capacity of 162 GWe in operation in Europe (five thereof in the Asian part of the Russian Federation) and 19 units with an electric net capacity 16.9 GWe were under construction in six countries. In terms of electricity generated by nuclear energy in 2010 France holds the top position with a share of 74.1 % followed by Slovakian Republic with 51.8 %, Belgium with 51.2 % and Ukraine with 48.1 % with. (EuroNuclear)

 

The International Nuclear Event Scale 
For prompt communication of safety significance

Level, Descriptor Off-Site Impact, release of radioactive materials On-Site Impact Defence-in-Depth Degradation Examples
7
Major Accident
Major Release:
Widespread health and environmental effects
Chernobyl, Ukraine, 1986 (fuel meltdown and fire);
Fukushima Daiichi 1-3, 2011 (fuel damage, radiation release and evacuation)
6
Serious Accident
Significant Release:
Full implementation of local emergency plans
Mayak at Ozersk, Russia, 1957 (reprocessing plant criticality)
5
Accident with Off-Site Consequences
Limited Release:
Partial implementation of local emergency plans, or
Severe damage to reactor core or to radiological barriers Three Mile Island, USA, 1979 (fuel melting);
Windscale, UK, 1957 (military)
4
Accident Mainly in Installation, with local consequences.
either of:
Minor Release:
Public exposure of the order of prescribed limits, or
Significant damage to reactor core or to radiological barriers; worker fatality Saint-Laurent A1, France, 1969 (fuel rupture) & A2 1980 (graphite overheating);
Tokai-mura, Japan, 1999 (criticality in fuel plant for an experimental reactor).
3
Serious Incident
any of:
Very Small Release:
Public exposure at a fraction of prescribed limits, or
Major contamination; Acute health effects to a worker, or Near Accident:
Loss of Defence in Depth provisions – no safety layers remaining
Fukushima Daiichi 4, 2011 (fuel pond overheating);
Fukushima Daini 1, 2, 4, 2011 (interruption to cooling);
Vandellos, Spain, 1989 (turbine fire);
Davis-Besse, USA, 2002 (severe corrosion);
Paks, Hungary 2003 (fuel damage)
2
Incident
nil Significant spread of contamination; Overexposure of worker, or Incidents with significant failures in safety provisions
1
Anomaly
nil nil Anomaly beyond authorised operating regime
0
Deviation
nil nil No safety significance
Below Scale nil nil No safety relevance

Source: International Atomic Energy Agency

 

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