Nuclear safety is generally the responsibility of EU Member States using nuclear energy, but the European Commission also has specific responsibilities in the field, mainly for legislation and oversight. According to a new report from the European Court of Auditors, the Commission has met these responsibilities but still has scope to update the legal framework and its internal guidelines.
The 1957 Euratom Treaty governs the peaceful use of nuclear energy in the EU. Responsibility for the safety of nuclear installations lies primarily with their licence holders (operators), under the supervision of national regulatory authorities. Euratom has laid down, in directives, basic standards to protect the health of workers and the general public against the dangers arising from ionising radiation. The Council adopts and regularly updates directives in the areas of nuclear safety, basic safety standards and radioactive waste management and spent fuel, after consultation with the European Parliament and based on a proposal from the Commission.
The Commission also oversees Member States’ transposition of these directives into national legislation, launching infringement procedures if needed. It also examines Member States’ planned nuclear investment projects for compatibility with the Euratom Treaty. The Commission has the power to verify the operation and efficiency of Member States’ facilities for monitoring the level of radioactivity in the air, water and soil. Moreover, it operates, manages and develops the European Community Urgent Radiological Information Exchange (ECURIE) system, created in the wake of the 1986 Chernobyl accident, to exchange information in the event of a nuclear emergency. Our audit focused on the Commission’s activities based on its powers and responsibilities under the Treaty.
“The Commission has generally met its responsibilities on nuclear safety”, said João Figueiredo, the Member of the European Court of Auditors responsible for the report. “However, we recommend updating the legal framework, approaches and procedures currently used to assess the transposition of Euratom directives, to issue the opinions on nuclear investments and to check radioactivity monitoring facilities”.