In the aftermath of Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster, the European Commission ordered that all nuclear reactors in Europe undergo ‘stress tests’ to identify any safety concerns. You would think that the operators of reactors would jump on a chance to reassure the public about nuclear power. Yet they have instead provided test results that should be a worry for people throughout Europe.
Some (but not all) of the 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.
We’ve 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.
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.
So what are the gaps in the results? There are many. 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. Why have evacuation plans for towns and cities close to reactors been ignored? Europe’s fleet of nuclear reactors is rapidly ageing but their age has not been properly considered.
Take another look at the reactors on the map above. None of the tests inspire confidence that the nuclear industry and regulators have made the safety of Europe’s citizens a top priority. Do they have something hide? Is it that they won’t guarantee public safety or that they can’t? We wonder if some of these reactors would be able to stand up to rigorous, independent testing.
These results do nothing to address concerns about reactor safety at a time when public opinion of nuclear power is at an all-time low, following the Fukushima disaster.
No nuclear reactor can be guaranteed as 100% safe. 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.