* EU leaders to discuss nuclear safety over dinner
* Industry group warns against "premature policy decisions"
* Greenpeace says safety tests must be binding, transparent
* Austria's anti-nuclear leader sees "hard confrontation"
(Adds Austrian chancellor's comments)
By Pete Harrison
BRUSSELS, March 24 Europe's nuclear industry
called for calm on Thursday as EU leaders gathered in Brussels
to try to agree safety rules for their nuclear power plants, but
Austria's anti-nuclear leader warned of a tough fight ahead.
European governments have reacted swiftly to Japan's nuclear
crisis in the wake of its March 11 earthquake and tsunami.
Germany quickly suspended operations at seven ageing nuclear
plants; Austria is demanding pan-European 'stress tests'; and
Bulgaria has tightened restrictions on its Belene nuclear
project near a quake zone.
France, a major exporter of nuclear technology, has tuned
its sales pitch to the new political landscape, advocating the
safety aspects of its next generation EPR reactors as it
competes for business on international markets. [ID:nLDE72M1ZS]
For FACTBOX on nuclear safety fears [ID:nN23284180]
At a meeting dominated by the EU's economic troubles and
military action in Libya, the bloc's leaders will also try to
settle their differences over the future of nuclear energy.
European nuclear industry body Foratom said it supported an
EU initiative to reassess the safety of reactors across Europe
and cautioned against hasty decisions based on what happened in
"It is premature to draw conclusions from the tragedy in
Japan with regard to the European nuclear energy programme," it
said in an open letter to the EU leaders.
"Until the current situation has been brought fully under
control and the nuclear events in Japan have been fully
understood, we need to refrain from making any premature policy
But Austria, which banned new nuclear plants in 1974, said
it would urge its neighbours to follow its example.
"I know that we Austrians have lots more support among the
people of Europe than among the heads of governments," Austrian
Chancellor Werner Faymann told reporters outside the summit in
"And I know the nuclear lobbies are equipped with so much
money and power that this is going to he a hard confrontation
that won't be over by tomorrow," he added.
Several EU countries have already given themselves breathing
space on the difficult political issue. Italy has announced a
one-year pause over plans to relaunch nuclear power after it was
banned in 1987. [ID:nLDE72L23Z]
Spain has shied away from a decision on where to place an
unpopular storage bunker for used fuel. [ID:nN23276426]
European Union leaders discussed the issue over dinner on
Thursday. A draft declaration seen by Reuters shows they will
probably sign up to a voluntary safety code on Friday.
But binding nuclear safety rules for all European Union
plants appear a long way off.
The EU's executive Commission already tried to set binding
rules in 2003, but was rebuffed by member governments.
What is likely to emerge instead are voluntary 'stress
tests', whose details will be developed in the months ahead by
Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger.
"For the tests to amount to anything more than a fig leaf,
the EU should ensure that they are compulsory, transparent,
independent and lead to the rapid closure of plants which fail,"
Greenpeace said in a statement, which also called for nuclear
power to be phased out.
(Additional reporting by Ilona Wissenbach in Brussels and
Michael Shields in Vienna, editing by Rex Merrifield)