Nuclear safety

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 generated 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.

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 and the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The amended 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 six 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

In 2015 the European Commission published a report on the progress made in EU countries on implementing the nuclear safety directive. Overall, the report found a good level of compliance with the rules. The next national reports will be submitted in 2020.

In 2020, the Commission published a factsheet on nuclear safety and security in the EU.

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, together with the European Nuclear Safety Regulators Group 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, and other measures.

On behalf of the European Atomic Energy Community, 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 centre on any energy challenge EU countries may face, and evaluate the role of nuclear energy within the energy union framework.


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