Nuclear Safety in Eastern Europe

European Union flag05:32 GMT Thursday 19th May 2011
The World Today
BBC World Service

TOM HAGLER: In the wake of the Fukushima disaster in Japan, a number of countries are taking a fresh look at the security of their own nuclear facilities. And that includes member states of the European Union. 143 nuclear reactors within the EU are due to undergo a set of so called “stress tests”, a move likely to be discussed at today’s meeting of the Nuclear Energy Forum in Prague. Our Eastern Europe correspondent Nick Thorpe has visited Romania’s one and only nuclear power station in Cernavodă near the Black Sea, and Nick joins us now. Nick, tell us first of all what sort of tests are under discussion within the EU at the moment.
NICK THORPE: Basically Tom those are three kinds. On the structures of the nuclear power stations, on the equipment within them, and on the preparedness of the staff at the reactors. Th kind of steps being proposed for example, would be for in the event of earthquakes in different areas where nuclear power stations are based, more support for the equipment, structural support for the equipment, and better preparedness of the staff, things like that.
TOM HAGLER: Are these stress tests above and beyond any testing that may already have been done locally?
NICK THORPE: Well in the immediatre aftermath of Fukushima, each power station, or many power stations, launched their own investigations to look into their own safety. Because obviously it’s in their interests to try and present themselves as safe and secure as the public or people living there would hope them to be. But I think these tests will be tougher. Certainly the European Commission itself, and countries which are more sceptical about nuclear power like Austria and Germany, have been suggesting much tighter regulations, bringing in for example independent experts. And this has been one of the sticking points in these negotiations. The nuclear regulators, the power stations, less keen to have independent people perhaps putting tougher tests in than they would have liked themselves.
TOM HAGLER: Right. Now tell us a little bit about Cernavodă, Romania’s only nuclear reactor. Any testing happening there yet?
NICK THORPE: Very much so. This is interestingly a Canadian designed reactor. It has two reactors actually built there, and two more planned in the near future, the operators hope. And at that reactor I’ve been speaking to the Director of it, Ionel Bucur. He’s the Director of the power station at Cernavodă, and I asked him how his power station is preparing for the tests. (TAPE)
IONEL BUCUR: The tests in fact are not tests, something you just push a button and check something. It’s to make some revision of safety (INDISTINCT) what you have. With this criteria, which are coming from lessons learned from Fukushima, how to act on an earthquake, how to act on a flood, which are quite severe accidents. And they said you have to take into account also human errors. And you have to take into account also terrorist attack. And every utility have to make this analysis under the supervision of the National Regulatory Authority, and prepare a report with results. And this submitted to the European Commission, which will have a meeting 9th December (2011). And this meeting will have a global overview of what has been found by any regulatory authority. (LIVE)
TOM HAGLER: Now Nick, you’re in Bulgaria now, you’ve moved further up the Danube. Tell us what the situation is like in the rest of Eastern Europe. Could these stress tests be a tough hurdle to pass, or possibly even de-rail plans for new reactors?
NICK THORPE: Well here in Bulgaria, at the Kozloduy plant, this is one which came into the focus of European attention in the 1990’s. Two of actually four reactors were closed there on safety grounds, because of EU concerns, before Bulgaria was allowed to join the EU. The Director of that plant has been quoted in the past days here in Bulgaria as saying that his power plant, he decribed it as the most controlled in the world. Because of previous concerns over safety there, he says that they’ve been working on the kind of stress tests being proposed for other power stations for many years there. So he’s confident for example that Kozloduy will pass that. And another place on the Danube, because obviously the river water is used by many countries to cool nuclear power plants, there at Belene, also in Bulgaria, they’re planning a new nuclear power station there. The accident though at Fukushima there might have further effects on that. People in the region more concerned obviously about nuclear power since the Japanese accident.
TOM HAGLER: Of course. OK. Thanks very much. That was Nick Thorpe in Bulgaria.