In the context of the ongoing nuclear crisis in Japan, the European Parliament discussed issues of nuclear safety in Europe on Wednesday, April 6th, 2011. During the plenary session in Strasbourg, among the items on the agenda was several proposals for a resolution on the future of nuclear power in the EU, none of which was accepted. In the midst of the debate, MEPs were divided over the topics of nuclear stress-tests (risk and safety assessments) and the need to progress to alternatives such as renewable energy.
In a mixture of realism and idealism, the MEPs debate centered on the safety of nuclear power plants in the 14 EU member states that have chosen to use atomic energy. One realistic viewpoint was presented by Giles Chichester (UK), who stated that the differences between Japan’s and Europe’s nuclear reactors and seismic activity are too great to make comparisons and to ban the technology immediately would mean “acting without evidence”. This viewpoint was officially supported by the motion for a resolution presented by a large number of political groups in the EP, stating that we have to bear in mind “that nuclear energy will continue to be part of the energy mix of several Member States for many years to come”.
On a more idealistic side, MEP Niki Tzavela (Greece) stated that “we are entering a new era of mega-disasters” and was supported by Marita Ulvskog (Sweden) who called for the need to find new alternatives to nuclear power. Such views were again to be found in the proposals for a resolution, with one text proposing that the EU should develop a “strategy beyond its borders involving consistent action at the highest political level”, pushing as far as “a ban on building nuclear power plants in high-risk regions, leading ultimately to a UN Convention”. A clearer ides of how this is to be done was lacking in the debate and the proposed resolution.
For the Council, Hungary’s Secretary of State Affairs, Eniko Gyori, stated that legislation will have to be revised in light of the proposed stress-tests. He further emphasized that a search for alternatives to nuclear power is ongoing, but no one expects the 14 Member States who use atomic energy to decommission their reactors immediately.
At the same time, Energy Commissioner, Gunther Oettinger, explained that the Commission was currently working on the criteria to be used for the stress tests, which will be sent to the Parliament and made public. He stated further that it is up to national nuclear energy regulators to carry out the stress tests because the EU lacks competence to do so. In response, MEPs attacked the voluntary basis for conducting the tests and MEP Rebecca Harms (Germany) went as far as to call them “suspicious” and stated that atomic regulators are a club, who know each other and tolerate very high risks.
At the end of the debate on Thursday, April 7th 2011, the MEPs voted on a resolution on nuclear safety, which was rejected by 300 votes against, 264 in favor, and 61 abstaining. The main reason for this outcome was a clear disagreement on many points of the text by the political groups. Evidence of this is the small margin by which the text was rejected.