Nuclear-dominated Forum aims to weaken Europe’s nuclear safety standards

Press release - 22 May, 2008
Greenpeace activists projected messages, including ‘Nuclear Undermines Climate Protection’ and ‘Energy [R]evolution Now!’, against the backdrop of the illuminated Prague Castle, drawing attention to the dangers of weakening European nuclear safety standards and the risk of seriously biased discussions in advance of today’s opening of the second meeting of the European Nuclear Energy Forum.

Largely away from public scrutiny, the Forum willconsider a proposal to lower nuclear safety standards across Europe to those ofthe lowest level applied in any MemberState. This could place astranglehold on national authorities wishing to impose stricter standards. Andby artificially lowering the costs of any future nuclear plants, lenient safetystandards would help open the door for an expansion of nuclear power and exposethe environment and public safety to greater nuclear risks.

Hosted by the Czech Prime Minister, and attended bysenior European politicians and decision makers from the power sector, theForum is proving to be a trade fair for the nuclear lobby. The Forum’s openingsession offers a privilegedposition to the CEO of the French nuclear company AREVA topromote the supposedly cheaper and safer ‘European Pressurised Reactor’ (EPR).Greenpeace argues that placing faith in new nuclear reactors undermines energysecurity and the chances of successfully combating climate change.

The Forum was set up after EU Heads of State andGovernment in March 2007 endorsed a European Commission proposal “to organise abroad discussion among all relevant stakeholders on the opportunities and risksof nuclear energy”. However, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth each with oneseat in the Forum, are the sole attendees from civil society.

”We welcome an open and fair debate on nuclearenergy. The arguments about cost, safety, energy security and tackling climatechange are all in favour of clean energy options,” said Jan Beranek, nuclearenergy campaigner from Greenpeace International. “What is happening here is amockery of a supposedly open process. The nuclear industry is arguing for yetmore financial support at the expense of safety, transparency and respect forpublic opinion,” he continued.

A Eurobarometer survey of public opinion on energytechnologies, published in 2007, found that only 20 percent of people in theEuropean Union support the use of nuclear power(1). Proposals by the Forum areintended to feed into the development of European Union policy and possiblylegislation. Since commencing in November 2007, the Forum has been movingtowards softening safety standards and pushing nuclear acceptance.

At the same time, real world events have demonstratedthat nuclear power remains as risky and controversial as ever. In Spain,information about a recent leak of radioactive material was kept secret. In Slovakia,construction work is under preparation on the Mochovce nuclear plant, which isbased on a design from the 1970s and has no ‘containment’ procedures in placeto deal with external impacts. In Finland and France, construction of thelatest generation of French EPR reactors is showing up the serious lack ofcompetence in the nuclear industry on issues as fundamental as pouring theconcrete base for the reactors, poor welding and inadequate and sometimesnon-existent quality control.

“It is time for politicians to stop listening to nuclearindustry propaganda,” said Beranek. “Problems of safety, nuclear waste and soaringcosts remain unsolved. Every Euro wasted on nuclear power is a Euro betterinvested in clean, renewable energy and energy savings. The world can illafford to waste time ironing out the complexities of nuclear power when thesesimpler and safer energy options have long been proven to deliver quicker.”

High-level attendance at the Forum includes theSlovak Prime Minister, the EU Energy Commissioner, a variety of Czech andSlovak ministers and senior energy decision makers from the public and private sectors.

Other contacts: Jan Beránek, nuclear energy campaigner, Greenpeace InternationalMobile phone: +31 6 5110 9558 (Netherlands), 604 207 305 (Czech Republic)Jan Haverkamp, EU policy campaigner dirty energy, Greenpeace Mobile phone: +420 603 569 243 (Czech Republic), +32 477 790 416 (Belgium)Pictures are available from John Novis, Greenpeace International Picture Desk (London). Tel: + 44 (0) 7801 615 889