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Nuclear safety

The EU promotes the highest standards of nuclear safety across Europe and beyond.

About a quarter of the electricity and half of the low-carbon electricity in the EU is generated by nuclear energy. It is crucial that this type of energy is produced in a safe and secure way, which is why nuclear safety is an absolute priority for the EU.

While plant operators, under the supervision of independent national regulatory authorities, are primarily responsible for the safety of their installations, an EU-wide approach to nuclear safety is of key importance because a nuclear accident could have negative consequences for countries across Europe and beyond.

The intrinsic specificities of nuclear industry (risk assessment and safety culture, emergency preparedness and response, worker health monitoring, radiation protection, etc.) contributed considerably to limiting the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the nuclear sector. In March 2022, the Commission published the report Resilience of the nuclear sector in Europe in the face of pandemic risks, which proposes recommendations to improve the overall resilience and preparedness of the nuclear industry against similar events.

Nuclear safety rules

Nuclear safety covers a wide range of activities such as ensuring proper operating conditions for nuclear installations, preventing accidents and mitigating the consequences if they happen.

Following the amending Nuclear Safety Directive (2014/87/Euratom), the EU significantly enhanced its leadership in nuclear safety worldwide. The amendment is based on nuclear risk and safety assessments (stress tests) carried out in 2011 and 2012, the lessons learned from the Fukushima nuclear accident, and the safety requirements of the Western European Nuclear Regulators Association (WENRA) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

The directive requires EU countries to give the highest priority to nuclear safety at all stages of the lifecycle of a nuclear power plant. This includes carrying out safety assessments before the construction of new nuclear power plants and ensuring significant safety enhancements for old reactors. Specifically, the directive

  • strengthens the role of national regulatory authorities by ensuring their independence from national governments. EU countries must provide the regulators with sufficient legal powers, staff, and financial resources
  • creates a system of peer reviews. EU countries choose a common nuclear safety topic every 6 years and organise a national safety assessment on it. They then submit their assessment to other countries for review. The findings of these peer reviews are made public
  • requires a safety re-evaluation for all nuclear power plants to be conducted at least once every 10 years
  • increases transparency by requiring operators of nuclear power plants to release information to the public, both in times of normal operation and in the event of incidents

National implementation reports

The Nuclear Safety Directive (2009/71/Euratom) requires that EU countries submit national reports to the Commission on the implementation of the directive as of 22 July 2014 and every 3 years thereafter. The national reports aim at demonstrating how countries are addressing the directive’s obligations by illustrating the approaches taken at national level. Based on the 2014 reports, pursuant to the directive, the Commission submitted on 18 November 2015 the first progress report and a staff working document on the directive’s implementation to the Council and the European Parliament.

The amendment to the Nuclear Safety Directive (2014/87/Euratom) modified the above reporting obligation by requiring that EU countries submit the second round of national reports by 22 July 2020. Based on these reports, the Commission published in April 2022 the second and final progress report on the directive’s implementation, which has been passed to the Council and European Parliament.

The below list includes the EU countries’ national reports submitted for the 2014 and the 2020 reporting cycles.

Stress tests and follow-up

In response to the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident, risk and safety assessments ('stress tests'), were carried out on all EU nuclear power plants. Neighbouring countries were also associated with the stress tests and Switzerland and Ukraine participated fully. The Commission also encouraged and cooperated with nuclear regulators around the world to perform similar exercises.

The aim of the tests was to check whether the safety standards used when specific power plants received their licences were sufficient to cover unexpected, extreme events like for example earthquakes, flooding, terrorist attacks or aircraft collisions.

According to the tests, the safety standards of European nuclear power plants were generally high, but further improvements were recommended. Nuclear regulators set up national action plans, which were peer-reviewed by experts from EU countries and the Commission.

The implementation of the stress tests recommendations is a national responsibility and is ensured by operators and national regulators. The Commission is committed to support EU countries and follow the implementation of national action plans closely.

International cooperation

The EU cooperates with non-EU countries and international organisations on nuclear safety. In 2013, the European Commission signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to further strengthen the cooperation through expert peer reviews, emergency preparedness and response. In 2022, the European Atomic Energy Community signed a new MoU with the IAEA on nuclear safety cooperation, updating the previous agreement from 2013, and extending activities to include emerging areas of common interest, such as education and training, small modular reactors and the safety of fusion installations.

On behalf of Euratom, the Commission takes part in triennial review meetings (RM) and extraordinary meetings (EM) on the Convention on Nuclear Safety and produces corresponding reports

The IAEA and the Commission meet annually to review progress achieved from working together on a range of nuclear activities.

European Nuclear Energy Forum

The European Nuclear Energy Forum (ENEF) is an annual forum that brings together national governments, EU institutions, industry representatives and regulators, electricity consumers and civil society to discuss opportunities and risks of nuclear energy.

The focus of the forum can change from year to year, but the discussions are centred on any energy challenge EU countries may face and the evaluation of the role of nuclear energy within the energy union framework.