* EU nuclear watchdogs agree details of "stress tests"
* EU member states to decide strategy on terrorist risk
* Tests to start before June 1, finish by end April 2012
(Adds quote, Swiss phase-out, anti-nuclear meeting)
By Pete Harrison
BRUSSELS, May 25 European nuclear watchdogs have
agreed details of new safety checks on the region's 143 reactors
and said a group would be set up to deal with the risks of a
nuclear crisis arising from a terrorist attack.
By June 1, regulators will have to start checking power
plants' resilience to earthquakes and tsunamis to avert any
crisis like that at Japan's stricken Fukushima plant, the
European Commission said on Wednesday.
The tests, which follow two months of dispute, will also
address the ability of reactors to withstand more common threats
such as forest fires, transport accidents and the loss of
electrical power supplies.
"We've come up with very comprehensive testing criteria," EU
Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger told reporters.
"At the European-level, we'll be inspecting the inspectors,"
he said. "Human error has played a role in the Fukushima
accident, so therefore we felt human error and human action had
to be part of the stress test."
Officials say that in Europe the most significant threat to
reactors comes from terrorism, but Oettinger said that was best
handled by national security agencies.
"I respect that some member states say they don't want to
show their cards -- that could even abet terrorism," Oettinger
told German radio station Deutschlandfunk.
He now plans to prod Europe's neighbours, Russia, Ukraine
and Switzerland, to follow suit.
Europe's divisions over nuclear power have deepened since
Fukushima, with Britain and France remaining steadfast
supporters, Italy shelving plans to build new plants and Germany
taking steps towards a phase-out.
The Swiss government agreed a gradual phase-out of nuclear
energy on Wednesday. [ID:LDE74O1MF]
A fundamental shift in energy strategy is under way.
Germany's suspension of its oldest seven plants has already
increased demand for coal, and analysts predict an increase in
long-term European gas demand. [ID:nLDE74M0S7]
"The role of nuke power will suffer a setback," Paolo
Scaroni, the chief executive of Italian energy giant Eni
(ENI.MI), told reporters. "There are several reasons to think
the gas market will tighten again."
Austria, a vocal opponent which banned new plants in 1974,
said all its main demands had been met.
"This really was a tough fight," Austrian Environment
Minister Nikolaus Berlakovich told Austrian radio. "I welcome
that a nuclear safety system is being set up for the first time
at the European level. The nuclear lobby resisted it, of
While the stress tests will have no legal teeth, they will
be reviewed by other national regulators and the details will be
made public. That means any plant that fails will come under
ever more intense pressure from the anti-nuclear lobby.
"In case an upgrade is not technically or economically
feasible, we believe reactors shall be shut down and
decommissioned," the European Commission said in a statement.
"A government has to explain to its public why it has taken
a decision, or failed to act."
This could put particular pressure on plants without
containment structures for reactors or fuel pools, or those that
face seismic threats.
That might put the spotlight on Britain's gas-cooled Magnox
reactors, Russian-made units in Slovakia, Hungary and the Czech
Republic, and old boiling-water reactors in Germany, Spain,
Sweden and Finland.
Green group politician Rebecca Harms challenged governments
to take the threat of terrorism seriously.
"The proposed working group... smacks of being a face-saving
exercise, which will fail to actually test the ability of key
sites in Europe to withstand an attack, like a plane crash --
which it is widely known they cannot," she said.
Austria convened a meeting in Vienna on Wednesday, which it
said was attended by 11 anti-nuclear countries including Denmark
Environment minister Berlakovich said he would like to
"expand the family" to include countries like Poland and Italy
that were still undecided.
But he played down the speed of change: "Anyone who says
Europe will be free of nuclear power at the push of a button is
(Additional reporting by Annika Breidthardt in Berlin and
Michael Shields in Vienna; Editing by Michael Roddy)