A joint letter, co-signed by the Chairs of the Cities for a Nuclear Free Europe (CNFE) and the UK and Ireland Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA), has been submitted to the European Commission over concerns around the international inspection of nuclear plants in Europe. (1)

The letter arises from concerns raised by the Dutch city Bergen op Zoom, which is located less than 20 kilometres from the nuclear power plant Doel in Belgium, but has no legal rights regarding the life time extension of this nuclear plant. Many towns and cities around Europe are in the same position.

One third of existing European nuclear power plants are situated in a border region. As such, these nuclear power plants are situated in such a way that more than one country is affected when security and safety is at risk. For example, on numerous occasions Luxembourg, Germany and the Netherlands have expressed their concerns about the nuclear plants in Doel and Tihange, Belgium.  Furthermore, an internal audit of the Belgian nuclear regulator Federal Agency for Nuclear Control (FANC) from 2016 showed that its own independence is to be questioned.

In the joint letter signed by CNFE, NFLA and by the Mayor of Bergen op Zoom, they ask to place the supervision of nuclear plants not only in the hands of national authorities, but at a European level as well. In their collective view, creating effective instruments for supervision shall ensure that the legitimate interests of the population of neighbouring countries are safeguarded, as well as those of the people of the country of origin.

As a UK and Ireland organisation, this has been a matter of concern for the NFLA for some time, as many of its Irish member authorities are concerned about the effects of an accident from a nuclear power plant based in England, Scotland or Wales. The Republic of Ireland possesses no nuclear power stations and has a legal duty that it will never seek to build any. There are also no civil nuclear reactors in Northern Ireland. The NFLA All Ireland Forum recently responded to a UK Government consultation on transboundary issues with the Hinkley Point C site, after a ruling from the international Espoo Convention Committee. (2)

NFLA welcomes its ongoing cooperation with the CNFE and urges the European Commission to carefully consider this matter, particularly with likely changes to the Euratom arrangements as the UK formally exits the European Union over the next few years.

NFLA Vice-Chair Councillor David Blackburn said:

“I welcome this letter as it raises legitimate concerns over the transboundary nature of nuclear power. Any accident affecting a nuclear reactor in Europe will never stop at a national border, as the experience of the Chernobyl disaster showed. Governments and Councils in neighbouring countries are rightly concerned on the possible effects of a nuclear incident to their own populations. I urge the European Commission to instigate a review of such arrangements, particularly as the operation of the Euratom Treaty may change with the UK’s plans to leave this Treaty in the next couple of years.”

NFLA All Ireland Forum Co Chair Councillor Mark Dearey added:

“For decades, Irish Councils and previous Irish Governments have been rightly concerned of the negative potential impact on the island of Ireland from a serious nuclear accident at a UK or French nuclear facility, like Sellafield, Hinkley Point or Cap de la Hague. I am pleased this matter is being widened out to the European context to share in the same concerns of municipalities in the likes of the Netherlands, Germany, Luxembourg and Austria. I fully support this letter as a genuine way forward in encouraging the European Commission to take a view as the nuclear safety regime potentially changes due to the Brexit issue. Now is the time for real change on such important transboundary safety matters.”

Ends – for more information please contact Sean Morris, NFLA Secretary, on 0161 234 3244.

(1) The text of the letter to the European Commission is as follows:

As representatives of local authorities from around Europe, organised in CNFE and NFLA, who are committed to a new fossil-free, nuclear-free future, we express our concern regarding the supervision of the safety of nuclear power plants. Presently this is in the responsibility of the member states, each country supervises its own nuclear power plants. Internationally, agreements are made on some requirements that need to be met. But the binding legal framework and actual inspections are almost exclusively implemented on a national level.

CNFE – Cities for a Nuclear Free Europe are an informal network of 30 cities and city leaders who wish to reduce or avoid the risks, dangers and costs of nuclear power in Europe.

NFLA – Nuclear Free Local Authorities is a UK and Ireland based city network which tackles in practical ways, and within their powers, the problems posed by civil and military nuclear hazards.

Our organisations have been motivated by the activities of one of our CNFE members, Bergen op Zoom in the Netherlands. This city is located less than 20 km from the nuclear power plant Doel in Belgium, but has no legal rights regarding lifetime extension of this plant. Many cities in Europe are in the same position. One third of existing European nuclear power plants are situated in a border region. Regarding this fact, these nuclear power plants are situated in such a way that more than one country is affected when security and safety is at risk. On numerous occasions Luxembourg, Germany and The Netherlands have expressed their concerns about the nuclear plants in Doel and Tihange, Belgium. Furthermore, an internal audit of the Belgian supervisor FANC from 2016 showed that its own independency is to be questioned.

There are also a number of cross-boundary concerns with the development of new nuclear plants around the EU. Concerns are e.g. being raised by a number of countries at the development of the Hinkley Point C nuclear reactor in the UK, as seen in a recent consultation held by the UK Government after pressure from the Espoo Convention Committee.

While fully respecting the right of every Member State of the EU to choose its energy mix freely on a national level, CNFE and NFLA think that supervision on nuclear power plants needs a component at the European level with adequate transparency for civil society. Only then, completely independent supervision can be guaranteed. Only then all affected citizens are able to participate in the decision-making process for the benefit of their own environment.

Other transboundary safety/security issues are already placed at the European level, like surveillance of the external borders by Frontex and exchange of information between police services by Europol. Supervision of nuclear power plants should be added to this list.

In June 2013, the Commission has presented a legislative proposal, drawing on the results of the post-Fukushima stress tests, to revise and strengthen the provisions of the current nuclear safety directive. It proposes to reinforce the role and independence of national regulatory authorities, to increase transparency, to enhance on-site emergency preparedness and response, and to introduce a European system of peer reviews of nuclear installations, along with specific safety reviews of older nuclear power plants.

In its first-reading position of April 2014 on the proposal for a Council directive, the European Parliament again has called for a change of legal basis, from the EURATOM Treaty to the TFEU. It has extended the scope of the directive to any planned, existing, accidental or emergency radiation exposure, has tightened the dosage limits for which exposure is allowed, and has strengthened penalties and reparation for damages. The standards for public information have been improved.

We think the steps already taken are not enough. Therefore, we ask you to place supervision of nuclear plants not only in the hands of national authorities, but at a European level as well. Creating effective instruments for supervision shall achieve the legitimate interests of the population of neighbouring countries being safeguarded, as well as those of the people of the country of origin.

Yours sincerely,
Ulli Sima, Deputy Mayor of the City of Vienna for the Environment and Public Utilities, on behalf of the Member Authorities of the Cities for a Nuclear Free Europe (Secretariat based in Vienna: http://www.cnfe.eu)

Councillor Ernie Galsworthy, UK & Ireland Nuclear Free Local Authorities Chair and Councillor Mark Dearey and Councillor John Trainor, Co-Chairs of the All Ireland Nuclear Free Local Authorities Forum, on behalf of all its member authorities (Secretariat based in Manchester: http://www.nuclearpolicy.info)

Mayor Dr. Frank Petter,
Mayor of Bergen op Zoom, who is an active member of CNFE and whose city is directly affected by the issues in this letter.

(2) NFLA New Nuclear Monitor 50, NFLA All Ireland Forum submission to the Hinkley Point C transboundary consultation, October 2017
http://www.nuclearpolicy.info/wp/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/NFLA_New_Nuclear_Monitor_No50.pdf