The European Union's nuclear regulators will meet with the European Commission on Thursday to attempt to find common ground on "stress tests" for nuclear power plants that were agreed upon in the wake of Japan's reactor crisis, but whose scope has since proven contentious, dpa reported.
"Nuclear incidents ignore national borders. We must make sure that nuclear safety ignores those borders too," European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said on Wednesday. "Europe already has the strictest safety regulation in the world and we are determined to go further."
The nuclear meltdown scare that Japan faced at its Fukushima nuclear plant in the wake of a magnitude-9.0 earthquake and ensuing tsunami led to a renewed debate on nuclear safety around the world.
EU leaders in March decided to recommend that member states carry out voluntary stress tests. They tasked the national regulators and the European Commission with drafting common assessment standards, with a view to launching the tests in the second half of 2011.
But there are differences between member states and EU Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger on what should be tested for.
Oettinger has insisted that plants be assessed not just on how they would withstand natural disasters, but also man-made ones - particularly terrorist attacks.
"The commission is pushing to make sure that those who choose nuclear energy apply the highest possible standards of safety," Barroso noted. "These tests should be comprehensive and include the widest range of scenarios."
Testing for terrorist attacks, however, has met resistance from some member states because of the commission's simultaneous demand for the tests' outcome to be made public, according to Oettinger spokeswoman Marlene Holzner.
The commission has insisted on transparency because it cannot force member states to fix problems found at their nuclear plants, but believes the public will do so if the issues come to light.
"There are member states who ... don't want to publicize the measures they have put in place to prepare for an eventual attack," Holzner said. "It is obvious that there is information you can't really publish. (Oettinger) is ready to compromise on that."
The commissioner has warned that he is ready to bring the issue back before EU leaders if an agreement can't be reached.
Holzner said it is not clear whether a decision will emerge during Thursday's meeting of the European Nuclear Safety Regulators Group, noting that there is no set deadline for one to be made.
A total of 143 nuclear power plants are currently operational in fourteen of the EU's 27 countries, with another six under construction and 15 proposed.